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Tremont Street in 1903 or earlier, looking northeast. On the left are entrances to the Park Street subway station at Boston Common and the Park Street Church... click to see Boston photos at the Library of Congress
Boston's Tremont St. in 1903 or earlier, looking north, Park St. to the NW. On the left, at the east corner of Boston Common, are entrances to the
Park St. subway station; the Park St. Church is in the background... click for Library of Congress Boston pics current satellite photo-map

The New York Times, October 10, 1897, p. 21:


A Minute Description of This Great Enterprise of New England's Busy City.


The Scheme Was Placed on Foot in 1891 and Serious Obstacles Gave Way Rapidly Before the Energetic Contstructors.

    BOSTON, Oct. 9.--...Boston, so known for her proverbial conservatism... has just placed in partial use... a notable example of tunnel construction in a large city, the subway, costing $5,000,000.

    This passageway, which is to be used for electric street car traffic, was opened to public service on Wednesday, Sept. 1, and, extending for a distance of nearly one and one-half miles through the centre of the business district of the city, is expected to serve as a satisfactory solution of transit difficulties that have long been existing and have proved a tremendous hindrance to the transactions of a town ranking second in point of commercial importance among American seaports.

    Two sections were opened on Sept. 1 for actual daily traffic... On the last day of September, however, when Section 4 was placed in operation, the fact marked the completion of a division of this tunnel that... is far ahead of the others in point of curious and striking features.

A Tunnel Under a Tunnel.

    Section 4 is the sub-subway, in that, starting at the junction of Pleasant and Tremont Streets and Shawmut Avenue, (the southern terminus of the subway,) it extends along under Tremont Street, northerly, and steadily descends, until, at Boylston and Tremont Streets, it passes under the subway, and from this place the grade, rises easily until the cars reach the level of the subway proper, at West Street, not far from Park Street Church. The spectator who stands at the Pleasant Street end and looks down into Section 4 will observe a curious arrangement of tracks. It would appear that there were four distinct tracks and that two of these ran under the others, in fact, that a "sub-sub-subway" existed. And, for a very short distance this is true.

No More Waiting Cars.

    While the opening of the earlier sections took off an immense traffic from the surface of Tremont Street, the letting in of all Tremont Street cars to the sub-subway creates a wonderfully altered surface. Those long strings of waiting cars have vanished...

    ...32,000,000 passengers are yearly transported over the district through which the subway is built, and it is planned that this way shall be ample for the carriage of 60,000,000.

    While on opening day it is estimated that nearly 200,000 passengers were carried through the subway from the public garden entrance to Park Street, and the motormen, unused to the new track [were] rather apprehensive, no accident or hitch of any sort occurred... As the majority of the public is not familiar with the exact stopping places of the various lines of cars, a crowd of attach?s finds plenty of work to do. The waiting platforms are spacious, and there is no danger of people getting in the way of moving cars.

    ...As regards this project, it may be noted that necessity was the promoter, the realization that it was either the subway or the calm serving of notice to the general public that a great volume of business would have to go to other cities, for Boston could no longer handle it. At almost any hour of the day the stranger in the Hub could stand on Tremont or Washington Street and study a blockade, a seemingly inextricable tangle of street cars and drays.

Scheme Proposed in 1891.

    Agitation upon the subject of transit facilities of a more expeditious type gained its first victory when, in 1891, the Boston Transit Commission was organized...

    ...the commission decided upon constructing a subway through which the entire system of the city's street cars should pass upon reaching the down-town district. It was decided to begin on Causeway Street, near the Union Station, and build a tunnel of sufficient width to accommodate four lines of railway track, the course being directed in a southwesterly trend through the principal trade section of the city, including Haymarket Square and Washington and Tremont Streets. From Causeway Street to the corner of Tremont and Boylston the proposed tunnel was to be 46 feet wide and 15 feet high from floor to ceiling. At this point there was to be a deflection, two lines extending west along Boylston Street to a point on the Public Garden, and two running on south to the junction of Shawmut Avenue and Tremont Street. The width of the latter branches of the new tunnel was to be 24 feet.

    Despite the most serious obstacles and annoyances, work on the subway has been prosecuted, until now fully two-thirds of the entire enterprise has been completed...

    Streets crowded with traffic from 6 o'clock in the morning until 12 midnight... had to be dug up without wholly closing them to teams.

Some of the Barriers Overcome.

    A network of water mains, gas mains, and electric wires interposed at every stage of excavation. Three burial grounds lay along the course... Very often digging was going on within two feet of the foundation walls of large business blocks! Braces had to be erected, bridges built, props and timbers for supporting machinery set up, in places where there seemed scarcely room for the engine alone. It required, as a rule, three times as long to make ready to dig as it did actually to take out the tons of earth...

Pure Air and Good Light.

    A study of the mechanical and constructive features of the Boston tunnel will reveal a surprising contrast to those in European cities. No dark, ill-smelling subterranean terror is discovered, but a complete system of electric lighting whereby the passenger upon the trolley car can see to read fine print. Huge fans operating in connection keep the tunnel supplied with pure air. A thorough system of drainage is employed. As for the durability of the structural labor, it may be said that the side walls are three to five feet thick and the roof two feet, broad steel beams being used for the latter, and layers of steel, concrete, and brick serving for the side walls...

    The subway proper cost $5,000,000. Some months ago the West End Street Railway took a twenty-year lease of the work, and the fittings the corporation has made, such as rails, electric lighting, &c., cost nearly 500,000 additional. Appropriations and the sale of bonds provided the building expenses.


Boston Common in about 1909... click to see Boston photos at the Library of Congress
Boston Common, the oldest public park in the US, in about 1909... click for Library of Congress Boston pics current satellite photo-map of Boston Common