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 Boston.

    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

    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   

Sylvester Roper and the Invention of the Mortocycle   

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.

    From the Hopedale town report for 1927, you can see 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.

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

Sylvester Roper and the Invention of the Mortocycle   

Early Hopedale Highway Department trucks                       HOME   


The center of Hopedale, Massachusetts in the 1890s