By Ellsebree D. Locke
The coming of the railroad marked the transition of a hamlet into a village with a name. The records, going back to the year 1852, show that the Boston & Albany Railroad operated a line from Boston to Brookline, and in that year the Charles River Railroad was started from Brookline to Needham, controlled by the New England Railroad, now part of the New Haven system. In 1885 the Boston & Albany Railroad purchased a portion of this line from Brookline to Newton Highlands (totalling five and one-tenth miles) for $415,000. At that period people from Waban were obliged to either walk or drive to Newton Highlands for train service to Boston. There were two railroad stations in the Newton Highlands district, one at the present site of the station, another about one-third of a mile west, known as Cook Street, at the junction of the present New Haven, just east of the fire station located on the Worcester turnpike.
Work was then started to connect Newton Highlands with Riverside on the main line of the Boston & Albany. It was completed in August, 1886, and the first train to operate was run through with ceremony on August 28th, with flags, fireworks and a speech at Riverside by J. F. C. Hyde, the first Mayor of Newton.
It had been the intention of the railroad to call the present Eliot station "Waban" and the Waban station "Hillside." There is a story that the tickets and time-tables were already printed when, due to pressure brought to bear by Mr. Strong and Mr. Gould, at the last moment Hillside was changed to Waban and new printed matter gotten out at top speed. Eliot was to be called Waban in the first place because on the field adjoining the railroad was located the diamond of the Waban Baseball Club, made up of boys and men of Upper Falls and Newton Highlands. Mr. Gould was a member of this team. It was a locally famous champion team. Mr. Henry K. Rowe in his History of Newton (1930) states that it "made a reputation for itself in the season of 1866 by winning six out of eight games played that season. The score of a game in which the Jamaica Plain team was defeated indicates the less scientific character of the game than its present-day successor, for after eight innings the Waban Club had 78 runs to its credit as compared with its opponent's 26. The two teams had battled for three and a half hours at the grounds at Oak Hill and it was time to knock off for supper."
In the year 1889 thirty-three trains were operated to Boston and thirty-five from Boston through Waban. It was possible to take trains at the Waban station in either direction for Boston, via either the "Main Line" or the Highland Branch. No one in Waban needed to consult a time-table; one merely went to the station and took the first train, no matter which direction—unless in a great hurry, in which case it saved time to avoid the main line as that way took somewhat longer. No change was necessary at Riverside and the fare was the same either way. This was really splendid service.
In those days, at Newton Highlands, Newton Center and other crossings, there were grade crossings with a gate tender bearing a flag and the old-fashioned barrier let down with much ceremony, while the occupants of wagons and carriage waited with a firm hold on the reins.
During the construction of the Waban station certain trains did not make regular stops unless flagged. One Old-Timer remembers waving a handkerchief by day and making a torch by applying a match to a rolled-up newspaper by night. There is a wild controversy on the subject of Waban's ever being a flag station, but it seems quite certain that at times this occurred.
West of Waban, below the golf links and just east of Woodland station, a huge cut was necessary through a hill and this gravel, together with a like amount from an excavation east of Riverside, was used to fill the present Back Bay area of Boston, where Muddy Brook joins the Charles.
Up until the year 1897 commuters from Waban and all stations on the Highland Circuit going to Boston, entered the city at the Boston & Albany station, which was located on Knee-land Street at the foot of Lincoln Street. The Old Colony, the New England and the New York, New Haven & Hartford stations were all also located on Kneeland Street, just east of the Boston & Albany. Later, the first three named were consolidated under the New Haven system and when the South Station was built, all three were located there.
I wonder how many Old-Timers remember portly Mr. Bean, one of our very first conductors? Children going in to the South Station to be taken to the circus or the dentist were always put in Mr. Bean's gruff and kindly care. And how many recall those early railroad engines, which had a habit of spitting a fine spray of soot all over the people assembled on the platform and even some distance away? It was wet soot and wouldn't dust off; it was permanent. Thus railroading in Waban's early days!
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