Abandoned railroads and rights of way

FK4

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I saw two pair of fieldstone abutments on the Charles yesterday way out in Medway and Millis and figured out they belonged to the Medway Branch Railroad, which only existed 1852-1863 or so. You can't even see the old ROW from aerial, it's been abandoned for so long. Does anyone have any information on this line beyond what the local historical societies have? I would love to see a map of the route or any pics.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Very little info exists on the Medway Branch, since it was so short-lived. I've never even seen a map of it. Now, Medway does have an arch overpass of the Charles from the Charles River Railroad (a.k.a. Needham Line) and a surviving road overpass downtown, but that was from the line out of Millis that was carrying MBTA commuter rail service until '65 and abandoned by NYNH&H in '66. That one is still easily traceable on Google until it slams into housing developments on the wartime-abandoned West Medway-Bellingham Jct. (active Milford Branch) segment and is obliterated.

The older one I think ran northeast/southwest out of New York & New England's Wrentham and Franklin Lines, hitting the modern Franklin Line somewhere around Franklin Jct. (either on the main or on the active Franklin Industrial Track), and the modern (abandoned 1976, very much intact) Wrentham Branch en route. But I couldn't even guess where it hit because there's no hint of an intersecting ROW anywhere near known station locations in Franklin or Wrentham. I mean...pre- Civil War that would've been clear-cut farmland that got overgrown during the Civil War...then got clear-cut again for farmland after soldiers returned from the Civil War...then became new-growth forest again during the Industrial Revolution. That ROW would've gotten 1-2 more eraser passes by nature than even some of the early-20th century abandonments that are still very well-traceable on satellite. If there isn't somebody who's made a Google Map from looking at historical records it's virtually impossible to piece together from completely alien surroundings.
 
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stick n move

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Heres a cool map showing Both the current rail lines and many old rows both on the same map.

 
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F-Line to Dudley

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Heres a cool map showing Both the current rail lines and many old rows both on the same map.

Charles River RR is Newton Highlands to Needham Jct., then west to Millis/West Medway, then Bellingam Jct, then Woonsocket, then Pascoag, RI...absorbing outer half of the active Needham Line. Service from Boston ran via the B&A Riverside Line. The Needham Line from VFW Pkwy. to Needham Jct. is a much later addition, the Needham Cutoff, built in 1911.
 

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Wow...that truly was a nowhere-to-nowhere line. I'm gobsmacked that wasn't a runaway success.

Thick line is the existing Franklin Line, save for its old West Roxbury-Islington alignment (Readville-Islington bypass came later). Note this is so old the town lines are way different from today.


EDIT: OK...figured out where this thing was (or at least intended to go...as that was just a map placeholder). Medway Branch forked off the Franklin Line a little south of the Seekonk St. grade crossing, probably between the end of that rock outcrop and the new-install T signal tower way off in the distance shown on Street View (i.e. the middle of fucking nowhere circa 2020 too!). Crossed MA 115 about 1500 ft. north of current Norfolk Station near the Boardman St. intersection (really...not even an attempt???), then trudged west to Myrtle St. and crossed the Charles shortly before it forks with the Mill River...near the ice hockey arena. Then skirted the Charles bank to downtown Medway. If it ever so much as touched the modern line out of Needham whose ROW is still very distinct cutting north of downtown, it had to have somehow plowed straight through downtown to get there. Explains why the Charles River intercity route made mincemeat out of it on business.

Branch to Wrentham would've used same junction and whiffed on Norfolk Station 2000 ft. south (again...who thought this was a good idea???), crossed modern 115, then paralleled 115 to the west while staying east of the ponds to reach Wrentham Ctr. Doesn't look like the modern-lasting NY&NE Wrentham Branch was even a figment of someone's imagination at the time this render was drawn, so area of touchdown is squishy at best. The NY&NE's big passenger and freight depot was just north of the 140/1A intersection evidenced by all the demolished ex-industrial slabs surrounding that site. No idea if this branch hit it square as a union station or not. There literally are no cues on Google through the forest that there ever was a ROW here...because (as per last post) the abandonment was erased by multiple generations of re-grown farmland and new-growth forest completely making over the terrain multiple times in ways that almost never erase 20th c. abandonments so thoroughly.
 
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Poolio

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Wow, is this what quarantine has come to? We're talking about Medway? :)

Just so happens I grew up in Medway. And live there again now. The house on West Street I grew up in (and where my parents still live) is on the map linked by jbray above. I used to fish in Hoppin's Brook (although my whole life I've called it Hopping Brook). I used to clamber around the foundations of a long lost mill on the Hoppin's Brook, and the ruined husks of some old farm buildings nearby when I was a kid.

What's labeled "East Medway" on the map is now Millis. What's labeled "Factory Village" is generally called Medway Village now, or just the old town center.

What's labeled "Medway Br RR" I never knew existed It was abandoned in 1864 apparently. There was another MBTA branch that ran through Medway as well. This was part of the Millis Line, and ran from 1861 to 1966. This ROW is still easy to see. You can clearly follow this through Millis and Dover all the way to Needham Junction, where it used to split off.

The ROW runs right behind what used to be the Medway High School (now the Middle School) on Holliston Street. I had a friend who lived on Haven Street in West Medway and we would walk the ROW to go back to his house sometimes. It was a straight shot. At the intersection of Cottage and Village Streets there is still one side of an old railroad structure where the tracks went above the street. Village Street used to take a sharp right and then a sharp left to get under the tracks here. They tore down the other half of the overpass and realigned the street when I was a little kid. That would have been back in the early 70's.

medway sat.png


medway row.png
 

Arlington

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I saw two pair of fieldstone abutments on the Charles yesterday way out in Medway and Millis and figured out they belonged to the Medway Branch Railroad, which only existed 1852-1863 or so. You can't even see the old ROW from aerial, it's been abandoned for so long. Does anyone have any information on this line beyond what the local historical societies have? I would love to see a map of the route or any pics.
Could you put a marker on a Google Map where the abutments are?
 

FK4

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Wow. This is the coolest fucking map. Look at all those mills. Well done, sir. Looks like there also was a Wrentham Branch. Amazing.

Wow...that truly was a nowhere-to-nowhere line. I'm gobsmacked that wasn't a runaway success.

Thick line is the existing Franklin Line, save for its old West Roxbury-Islington alignment (Readville-Islington bypass came later). Note this is so old the town lines are way different from today.


EDIT: OK...figured out where this thing was (or at least intended to go...as that was just a map placeholder). Medway Branch forked off the Franklin Line a little south of the Seekonk St. grade crossing, probably between the end of that rock outcrop and the new-install T signal tower way off in the distance shown on Street View (i.e. the middle of fucking nowhere circa 2020 too!). Crossed MA 115 about 1500 ft. north of current Norfolk Station near the Boardman St. intersection (really...not even an attempt???), then trudged west to Myrtle St. and crossed the Charles shortly before it forks with the Mill River...near the ice hockey arena. Then skirted the Charles bank to downtown Medway. If it ever so much as touched the modern line out of Needham whose ROW is still very distinct cutting north of downtown, it had to have somehow plowed straight through downtown to get there. Explains why the Charles River intercity route made mincemeat out of it on business.

Branch to Wrentham would've used same junction and whiffed on Norfolk Station 2000 ft. south (again...who thought this was a good idea???), crossed modern 115, then paralleled 115 to the west while staying east of the ponds to reach Wrentham Ctr. Doesn't look like the modern-lasting NY&NE Wrentham Branch was even a figment of someone's imagination at the time this render was drawn, so area of touchdown is squishy at best. The NY&NE's big passenger and freight depot was just north of the 140/1A intersection evidenced by all the demolished ex-industrial slabs surrounding that site. No idea if this branch hit it square as a union station or not. There literally are no cues on Google through the forest that there ever was a ROW here...because (as per last post) the abandonment was erased by multiple generations of re-grown farmland and new-growth forest completely making over the terrain multiple times in ways that almost never erase 20th c. abandonments so thoroughly.
F-Line, I think the idea of the branch was that it also served a large mill at Rockville. Also seems to have predated the W Medway Branch which took over service. But, I think the demise wasn’t competition but just bad financing. Very cool to me that I could not find any vestige of it on google aerial at all... but later on, if you go a bit southeast of the first Charles Crossing, you can see the property traces start if you zoom in close enough on Google regular map view. You can read about it here:
Transportation to and from the Rockville community was primarily by road, although, for a brief period between 1853 and 1864, a less convenient and often intermittent option of rail travel was available. The Medway Branch Railroad offered roundtrips between Medway through the Rockville area to North Wrentham (now Norfolk), where passengers could connect with the Norfolk County Railroad to Boston (or, for a very short time at its beginning, to Blackstone.) The good folk of East Medway (Millis) were offered stage connections to the line at Rockville. Travelers could take a handcar from Rockville to Medway when the trains weren’t running (apparently a common occurrence), which must have been an exhilarating trip during a 19th century New England winter. Understandably, passenger traffic was insufficient to keep the line profitable, it eventually went bankrupt, and the rails and stock were sold in 1864.
I’m not sure what they mean by the line that for a short time you could get to Blackstone — did it actually extend further?
A little more info here:
Julius C. Hurd entered into partnership with Alfred Daniels in batting manufacture, and both acquired considerable wealth. Around 1845, Hurd built the house now No. 204, and in 1853, he and Daniels were the principal investors in the ill-fated Medway Branch Railroad. When the railroad was abandoned in 1864, Hurd and Daniels lost not only their financial investment, but considerable pledged collateral as well. They were forced into bankruptcy, and among properties they lost was the 1845 Village Street house. It was taken over by Addison Bullard who had had a previous interest in it as creditor.

It took years, but Hurd and Daniels paid off every creditor to the defunct railroad, and subsequently acquired substantial holdings and wealth in the textile business.


Could you put a marker on a Google Map where the abutments are?
First crossing (exact)
Second crossing (approximate, but I think that's exactly where it was, between houses and the power lines)

Anyway, here’s are pics of the western crossing of the Charles. The eastern abutments (in Rockville) are cooler and taller, but there were some serious rapids so I couldn’t bust out my phone-cam. However, you could see them from the Myrtle Street bridge this time of year, but not on street view because too much vegetation; the house to the right of these power lines is right on top of the ROW, up against the abutments.

0328AEAD-2E46-470C-8710-5DE773DA1721.jpeg
A5CFBD2F-90C9-448E-84D9-DC74DFA218AF.jpeg
 
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hipster_garbage

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Long, long time lurker, first time poster. I did some research and using the old map posted up-thread and the location of the bridges from the photos FK4 posted I was able to trace out the (approximate) route in google maps. Zooming in on google maps in the regular map view you can also see the property lines showing the railroad easement until you hit the river. So from the modern day Norfolk station to the river should be accurate. After that is a best guess I was able to make by overlaying the old map onto google maps but the ROW is completely obliterated and the streets have changed slightly so it's hard to be certain.
 

The EGE

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Hipster, you're spot-on with the east portion but a little off on the west portion. Here's my trace of the route:

Medway Branch.png
 

hipster_garbage

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Hipster, you're spot-on with the east portion but a little off on the west portion. Here's my trace of the route:

View attachment 4807
I thought it made more sense following the power line ROW. But looking at the historical map it seems like it only crossed the Charles River once in Rockville and then cut over Village Street near the intersection with Farm Street before ending in the town center.

ocn843955083-2.jpg
 

The EGE

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That historical map isn't fully accurate. Note that it shows the branch splitting well north of Norfolk station, rather than at the station as built. I have also photographed the first set of abutments that FK4 did, and they are on my alignment.
 

hipster_garbage

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That historical map isn't fully accurate. Note that it shows the branch splitting well north of Norfolk station, rather than at the station as built. I have also photographed the first set of abutments that FK4 did, and they are on my alignment.
That makes sense, I would imagine an old drawn map wouldn't be 100% accurate. It also looks like you can see some remnants of embankments when you turn on terrain view in google maps which end up aligning with your tracing. Very cool!

1587065712900.png
 

F-Line to Dudley

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F-Line, I think the idea of the branch was that it also served a large mill at Rockville. Also seems to have predated the W Medway Branch which took over service. But, I think the demise wasn’t competition but just bad financing. Very cool to me that I could not find any vestige of it on google aerial at all... but later on, if you go a bit southeast of the first Charles Crossing, you can see the property traces start if you zoom in close enough on Google regular map view. You can read about it here:
This was also so long ago that the only mill locations were the ones that were water-powered. The railroads brought access to coal and steam-powered mill machinery, which induced a first-wave seismic shift in industrialization where the water mills without rail access were immediately non-viable and a great Location!Location!Location! stampede kicked off for getting bigger, more tightly-integrated factories closer to the coal supply. Hence, abandonment of some of the former mill villages and a wave of urbanization around downtowns that had large freight rail depots with cheapest coal rates. While a lot of the water mills on branchlines did rebuild themselves, if they were weak 'tweeners or were on a RR that didn't provide good service or had poor coal rates because of the number of bigger RR's it had to interchange with...some of those struggled before eventually closing from the writing on the wall. Sort of like how today's post-industrial New England has all these nice 1960's industrial parks with nothing but transient self-storage and/or moving pod places, "indoor trampoline fun time!", and cavernous crossfit gym tenants contributing nothing to the tax-base at bottom-barrel rants. Not dead-dead, but the town fooling itself thinking the light industry is ever coming back. That's probably what the intermediate mills along this branch looked like immediately after the Civil War when every industrialist with money to spend was looking for property next to the mainline freight houses in the town CBD's and to get the hell out of these tiny satellite villages.

I’m not sure what they mean by the line that for a short time you could get to Blackstone — did it actually extend further?
A little more info here:
Norfolk RR (Franklin Line) was complete to the junction with P&W in Blackstone, so thru service would have been offered which then would've afforded transfers onto (pre-NYNH&H) P&W for reaching Providence or Worcester. The rest of the Air Line west of Blackstone to Connecticut hadn't been built at this time, so New York & New England hadn't yet barged its empire-building self into the picture offering full-on Boston-New Haven intercity service. Once they bought their way into control of the Norfolk they probably cut the Medway Branch's owners' run-thru rights off at the knees to hasten their demise while they were building their own Wrentham Branch off Norwood Central. Guessing the Medway owners didn't make the right competitive alliances when the monopolist barged in on their doorstep. I'm not sure if NY&NE had any alliances with the Charles River RR or not, other than crushing the Medway Branch being mutually-serving for both. NY&NE's Wrentham Branch was in head-to-head competition with Boston & Providence (NEC) for reaching Providence...their route to Central Falls + P&W trackage rights to downtown Providence actually beat Boston & Providence's East Side Tunnel into downtown by insignificant few years. Charles River RR/Boston & Pascoag tried to alliance its way into Providence from the west taking the backdoor Pascoag Branch that runs (now rail-trailed) along the US 6 expressway in Olneyville and Johnston. They may have been counting on someone else's financing to come through to serve them up a more direct route in the vicinity of present-day RI 146 that would've given them a fully-competitive Providence routing, and it never came through. I'm not sure what their end goal was; there were a number of bigger players trying to elbow into Central RI from Worcester County who never made it. Boston & Albany only half-heartedly ran the trains on it for the sake of the lucrative Newton/Needham local density; they never tried to buy any of it, and dished off all their trackage rights west of Needham Jct. to NYNH&H the very second the Needham Cutoff opened 109 years ago so they could concentrate solely on the profit margins from "Needham Circuit" SS-Needham-SS commuter service.
 
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West

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If you go to Medway’s Assessors map, you can see the former ROW parcels quite clearly on the alignment that Poolio drew in at his post 1:38 today. Some are listed as owned by the town, others show no owner info but that looks like a glitch, almost certainly the town owns them. I suppose it’s not really a ROW now, just a string of parcels? Some are zoned AR-1 if someone wants to look up what that means in Medway (R for residential I bet, 1 for single family?) There are a few substantial official encroachments by residential parcels - by that I mean parcels listed on the assessor’s site as now extending to the midline of what was ROW or in some cases subdivisions pretty much obliterated where the ROW was. On the eastern side of town, though, it’s still there on parcel maps. I bet here’s tons more informal encroachments going on than what appears on the assessor’s map.

At the eastern border of town there’s a pair of town-owned parcels that form a big circle straddling the ex-ROW. Train turnaround facility way back when? I dunno, the parcels look funny. Also at the end of town there’s a bunch of parcels near the ex-ROW that the town owns and labels conservation land, and amongst them, also abutting the ROW, is a parcel owned by the US Army Corp of Engineers. I think there’s a stream tucked in back there, maybe a dam too? Can’t see anything on aerial view, seems the ex-ROW is completely overgrown with trees - except where abutters have extended backyards.

Hipster, that most recent map you drew seems to now be what is now electrical distribution ROW
 

jbray

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That historical map isn't fully accurate. Note that it shows the branch splitting well north of Norfolk station, rather than at the station as built. I have also photographed the first set of abutments that FK4 did, and they are on my alignment.
The map is from 1849, so would predate the actual line.
That makes sense, I would imagine an old drawn map wouldn't be 100% accurate. It also looks like you can see some remnants of embankments when you turn on terrain view in google maps which end up aligning with your tracing. Very cool!
If you follow the terrain line, it ends in a road called "Medway Branch" where the Norfolk Highway Department is now located. So I would agree with all above that the Electrical Row houses the former branch from about just east of the Norfolk Arena to the Medway Water Department.
 

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If you go to Medway’s Assessors map, you can see the former ROW parcels quite clearly on the alignment that Poolio drew in at his post 1:38 today. Some are listed as owned by the town, others show no owner info but that looks like a glitch, almost certainly the town owns them. I suppose it’s not really a ROW now, just a string of parcels? Some are zoned AR-1 if someone wants to look up what that means in Medway (R for residential I bet, 1 for single family?) There are a few substantial official encroachments by residential parcels - by that I mean parcels listed on the assessor’s site as now extending to the midline of what was ROW or in some cases subdivisions pretty much obliterated where the ROW was. On the eastern side of town, though, it’s still there on parcel maps. I bet here’s tons more informal encroachments going on than what appears on the assessor’s map.

At the eastern border of town there’s a pair of town-owned parcels that form a big circle straddling the ex-ROW. Train turnaround facility way back when? I dunno, the parcels look funny. Also at the end of town there’s a bunch of parcels near the ex-ROW that the town owns and labels conservation land, and amongst them, also abutting the ROW, is a parcel owned by the US Army Corp of Engineers. I think there’s a stream tucked in back there, maybe a dam too? Can’t see anything on aerial view, seems the ex-ROW is completely overgrown with trees - except where abutters have extended backyards.

Hipster, that most recent map you drew seems to now be what is now electrical distribution ROW
I would bet Cornelius Vanderbilt's left nut that the weird circular parcel off Village St. amid the power lines was the RR roundhouse. It measures out big as roundhouses go, and seems a bit oversize for such a podunk branchline. But if that's inclusive of the surrounding property buffer being circular too and not just the structure itself, it fits like a glove. Moreover, while it's close to the end of the line the actual end of the line was where Sanford Mills was located...with the mill having the most direct access to the Charles water supply. The RR thus seemed to choose the nearest abutting touch to the Charles from the occupied end-of-line for the roundhouse, which would've been pumping large amounts of river water for the locomotive boilers.
 

jbray

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You two are talking about different ROWs though.
West, you appear to be talking about the parcel off of Oakland Street just north of Chestnut Street with one firmly hugging that small body of water? (Map 51, 48 Oakland Street, Charles River Railroad)
F-Line, I think, is talking about the circular parcel on the Charles in-between where Village Street intersects with Island Road and Cynthia Circle. (72-048, Map 72, 41R Village Street, Medway Branch Railroad on lease to the Norfolk County Railroad)
 

F-Line to Dudley

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You two are talking about different ROWs though.
West, you appear to be talking about the parcel off of Oakland Street just north of Chestnut Street with one firmly hugging that small body of water? (Map 51, 48 Oakland Street, Charles River Railroad)
F-Line, I think, is talking about the circular parcel on the Charles in-between where Village Street intersects with Island Road and Cynthia Circle. (72-048, Map 72, 41R Village Street, Medway Branch Railroad on lease to the Norfolk County Railroad)
Yes...Google map view, on the ancient Medway Branch ROW, on the little oxbow on the Charles just northwest of Populatic Pond. Google traces a property line smack in the middle of the power line ROW that's drawn in a perfect arc riverbank-to-riverbank...where literally nothing present or past would've called for a perfect-circle property line embedded there of all places. I would say it's a solid 100 ft. wider-radius than what a roundhouse should be for a line like this, but site access would've been constrained by the riverbank so if they did it with a widened property buffer to carve out more side access for reaching the backlot against the river it fits.


West is referring to a parcel on the 1966-abandoned segment of Charles River RR by the site of the Medway Station that lasted into the MBTA era. End of the line at West Medway was a full 1.5 miles west of there @ Cottage & Village St.'s. Past there service ended in 1940 and the line was abandoned by the mid-40's.
 
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