Transportation in Hopedale in the Early 1900s

    In the early days of the twentieth century, the best way to get from one part of the town to another was to
    walk. Traffic was almost none. A bicycle here and there, a horse-drawn wagon delivering produce,
    meat, coal or ice. In the hot days of summer, one had to watch out for a sprinkler, also horse-drawn,
    which would be out laying the dust in the unpaved streets. (With a close look near the center of the
    picture above, you can just about see the sprinkler wagon. Early town reports for here in Hopedale,
    Massachusetts show that the highway department had three of them back in the dirt road days.)

    If one wanted to go to some other town, and walking was not feasible, there were available streetcars,
    powered by electricity, which could convey one, through connecting lines, to Worcester, Providence, or

    The electric cars, operated by the Milford and Uxbridge Street Railway Co., ran from Milford to Uxbridge,
    by way of Hopedale, Mendon and Nipmuc Park, where similar lines ran to other cities. The Milford
    connection ran through Caryville and Holliston to Framingham, where both electric and steam lines
    ran to Boston. The company also ran a car to Grafton, through Upton. A line at Grafton could convey
    one to Worcester.

    In the summer months, the cars were open, with seats traversing the full width of the car, and running
    boards went the full length of the car on both sides. The seats had backrests which could be swung
    over, so that most of the passengers could ride facing front when the cars changed direction.

    The power came from a wire running above the roadbed at a height of about fifteen feet. The contact
    was made by a pole secured to the car, with a free running brass grooved wheel, making contact with
    the live wire. Tension to keep the wheel in contact was done by a stiff spring, anchored to the roof of
    the car. The full length cars had one of these poles at each end of the car, and when the operator
    wished to reverse the direction, he would get out, and by means of a rope, which was fastened to the
    car, pull the pole down, and secure it by moving it to a position under a hook on the roof, and then go to
    the other end of the car, and make the connection, by reversing the process. If rain was falling, this
    was sometimes an interesting operation.

    To control the car, the motorman had a handle which fit over the power plant outlet, with a contact point
    which touched the points on the system, which was like a rheostat, with more power coming as the
    handle moved from one contact to the next. Compressed air brakes were used to stop and hold the
    car. There was also a hand brake, similar to those found on freight cars, used to anchor the car when
    the operator left it. If the pole jumped the power wire, as sometimes happened, the motorman had to
    stop the car so the conductor could dismount and go to the rear. Using the rope connected to the pole
    the conductor had to replace the wheel on the power wire. At that point they were ready to proceed. The
    conductor had to move along the aisle to collect the fares.  The fares were rung* up by pulling a cord
    which ran overhead the full length of the car and was connected to a digital counter at the end of the
    car. During the busy runs, when people may have been riding on the running boards as well as having
    the seats filled, collecting fares called for a considerable amount of dexterity. The conductor’s uniform
    had patch pockets in the jacket, lined with soft leather to protect the fabric. It has often been remarked
    that during these crowded car runs, it was very rare for a passenger to try to avoid payment of fare.

    To make the run to Grafton, the conductor had to throw a switch at the end of Soward Street, let the car
    move onto the Grafton line, and throw the switch again to leave the Uxbridge line open. In zero
    weather, this could also be an adventure.

    Soward Street had a double track, as did the part of Hopedale Street in front of the factory, as a great
    many employees came by the means to their work. The extra cars would go to Soward Street,
    manipulate the change of direction and return to the car barn, located on East Main Street in Milford,
    and wait to be called out for evening service.

    At Nipmuc Park, a spur was located, which could accommodate several cars, which would remain
    there during a busy night, and take on passengers for the return trip. If you missed the last car at night,
    you made it home on foot or not at all.

    There were also small open cars, like those on the toonerville trolley, and when carrying a full load,
    they were rough riding and adventurous to ride. A steam operated train made a few round trips during
    the day between Milford and Boston. Anonymous. Found at Bancroft Library. Probably it was a paper
    given at a meeting of the Hopedale Community Historical Society.

         * One line in the middle (it was at the bottom of the first page) was missing. Thanks to “trolley guy”
    Bob Heglund for filling in essentially what the author must have written.

    In talking with kids about life in early America, I find that most seem to think that every family in those
    years had a horse. Actually, for people living in towns and cities, other than the wealthy, that would be
    very unusual. They were generally within walking distance of work, and had little time to travel
    anywhere, nor could they afford the expense of having a horse. On the few occasions when the need to
    travel beyond walking distance arose, where trains and trolleys weren't available, they could generally
    rent a horse and buggy at the local livery stable. See further down on this page for more. DM

                     G & U Railroad and Trolley Menu                Auto Parade in Milford and Hopedale, 1904   

Early Hopedale Highway Department trucks                       HOME   

    This site is mainly viewed by people familiar with Hopedale, Massachusetts, but this page is frequently
    viewed by people from all over the country and other countries. I presume that's because a search for
    "transportation 1900s" usually brings up this page on the first page of results. Since those of you who are
    looking at this page may know nothing of Hopedale, here are a couple of sentences of introduction.

    Hopedale is a tiny town of only five square miles with a population of about 6,000. It started as a Utopian
    commune in the 1840s, and later became the home of the Draper Corporation, at one time the world's
    largest manufacturer of automatic cotton looms. It's located in south-central Massachusetts, just a few miles
    north of the Rhode Island border and about six or seven miles southwest of the start of the Boston Marathon.

    Here's a clue indicating that most people, at least those in manufacturing
    towns, and no doubt in cities also, in the early twentieth century, didn't own
    horses. Hopedale in 1927 with a population of 3,045 had only 24 horses.
    Almost certainly they were owned by the few farmers in town, the Hopedale
    Stable, and the few wealthy folks. Factory workers weren't going to be stabling  
    and feeding a horse seven days a week for the few times a year they'd have an
    occasion to travel beyond walking distance. For the times when walking
    wouldn't get them where they had to go, they'd take the trolley or rent a horse
    and wagon. In Hopedale, they'd rent from the Hopedale Stable.

    The assessors' report for 1892 shows fewer people, but more horses. The
    population was 1120  (living in 233 dwelling houses) and there were 126
    horses. Just over one horse for every two houses, whereas by 1927 there was
    only one horse for about every 24 homes. Probably the arrival of trolley service
    and the automobile is the reason for this.