Tag Archives: Nashua New Hampshire

The Men of the Boston, Lowell and Nashua Line – Train Life in the 1870s

The former Boston & Lowell railroad station on Lowell’s Central Street.

My two-year-old son loves trains.  One of his first words was “train”.  And, he likes to announce the arrival and departure of trains, with the word “train”, repeatedly, while pointing.

The fascination people have with trains can be traced back much further than today’s living generations.  In fact, before planes and automobiles, trains, or iron horses – as they were sometimes admiringly called, captivated young people in cities, towns, and out on country farms.  In the years following the close of the Civil War, young men on rural farms looked with fascination at the trains that passed through their New England towns.  They looked to the trains to deliver them from the boredom they had come to associate with farm life.  For young rural women, a trip to the depot to watch the train come in allowed them to break up the monotony  of farm life by seeing who was arriving from Boston, the ‘big city’.

In the 1870s, young people everywhere saw railroad life as offering a certain charm and urban sophistication.  Men who were able to land positions with the railroad could count on steady employment and a solid career.  And, they would travel through the city and surrounding countryside once or maybe even twice daily.

Men landing railroad jobs started off as brakemen, who brought trains to a stop at approaching stations.  From there, with time, experience, and some politicking, they were elevated into baggage-master positions.  Baggage masters were charged with caring for and delivering the bags and suitcases to traveling passengers. All young men on the railroad hoped one day to become conductors, who held the awe of all.  Conductors wore gold-laced caps, and were the ones who announced the ‘all aboard!’ at each stop along the line.

Railway men, and those who loved them, knew that a job on the railroad meant many hours away from home, but most of the men wouldn’t trade the job for any other, and often, a man who started his career as a brakeman retired decades later after a lifetime of employment on the railroad.

Lowell depot, by Leander Baker

Lowell depot, at the current site of Boston’s North Station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The conductors of the railroad were known by their uniforms.  Made of distinctive dark blue cloth, each man wore a sack coat and vest with pants, decorated with stripes.  The men fastened their uniforms in place with brass buttons, which bore the date of the railroad’s incorporation.  As part of their compensation, conductors received a stipend of $200 annually to buy their uniforms.  Strict regulations were enforced to ensure that conductors always appeared in uniform, and that they were neatly dressed.  Upon each completion of five years of experience, conductors added a black velvet stripe with gold trimming to their right sleeves.

Life on The Boston, Lowell, and Nashua Line

In 1874, the vast network of railroad lines connecting Boston with the outside world included the Boston & Providence, the Old Colony, the Fitchburg, the Boston & Albany, the Boston & Maine, the Eastern, and the Boston, Lowell & Nashua.

Ad for Boston & Lowell Rail Road, from the 1861 Boston City Directory (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

During the years following the Civil War, the Boston, Lowell, and Nashua line was known for its austere, direct conductors.  Most of the men who ran the line had grown up in the towns of New Hampshire where, as boys, they dreamt of one day becoming conductors.  In 1874, sixteen men served as conductors for the Boston, Lowell, and Nashua line on its “Boston End”; three more served as additional help when collecting and punching tickets on the trains when they ran their short trips.  Forty-six men supported the conductors’ efforts in the roles of and baggage masters.  The line prided itself on hiring men who had the ability to grow into the conductor role.

On the Boston, Lowell & Nashua line, men working the Lowell, Concord and Greenfield routes averaged 120 miles daily.  Men who worked the Woburn, Lexington, and Stoneham routes averaged some 60 or 80 miles, daily.  It was said that the more frequent stops on the shorter routes were more exhausting.

Conductors earned monthly salaries between $70 and $85.  Brakemen and baggage masters earned salaries around $50, monthly.  The men of the Boston, Lowell & Nashua line were described as a “steady-going” set, and almost all were married.  Those who had seen the conductors’ room described scenes of “high, low, jack” or backgammon.  The conductors on the line included some of the railroad’s longest-serving veterans.  One, John Barrett, had run the first train to ever make the route some forty years earlier, on June 26, 1835.  Barrett had held his conductorship through 1860, when he became a depot master for several more years.  By the 1870s, Barrett was still serving the railroad, even at the advanced  age of 74.  Another veteran of the line, Josiah Short, had served the railroad some forty years; by the mid-1870s, he had become a ticket agent at the Lowell station.  Another conductor, Albert Carter, had served for so long on the line’s Woburn branch that generations of schoolboys had come to know him as “Old Carter”.  Old Carter had developed no small part of his reputation by catching and reprimanding train stowaways who tried to steal rides between stations in the Winchester area during the years surrounding the Civil War.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority GP4...

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority entering the Porter Square Station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fascination with the iron horse and its personnel continues to this day, and many children announce the coming and going of the commuter rail train during its many runs bringing commuters into and out from Boston, daily.  The Boston, Lowell & Nashua line lives on in today’s MBTA commuter rail, which extends from Boston’s North Station through Lowell’s Commuter Rail station at the Gallagher Transit Terminal.  For some time, an extension of the commuter rail as far north as Manchester, NH has been proposed and debated, which would include stops in North Chelmsford, Tyngsboro, Nashua and at Manchester’s airport.  While the decision of extending the rail continues to be debated, today’s commuter rail stations force commuters from cities and towns north of Lowell to drive deeper into Massachusetts in search of one of the currently open commuter rail stations.


Remembering the Green Ridge Turkey Farm – Nashua, NH

Do you remember Kimball’s Green Ridge Turkey Farm on Nashua’s Daniel Webster Highway?  Who can forget the giant turkey that once stood atop that iconic sign on DW Highway?  For nearly 60 years,  the Green Ridge Turkey Farm stood on the corner of the DW Highway and Spit Brook Road in Nashua, NH, about two miles north of the state border with Massachusetts.  Its site was historic – the main house of the farm, called the manor house, had been a long-time Nashua landmark, dating to revolutionary times when it had served as a stage-coach hostelry.  Through several ownership changes and one major fire, the Green Ridge served dinners and pies in its restaurant – and not just of turkey, but also seafood; the Green Ridge also served lobster, clams and scallops.

Green Ridge Turkey Farm Restaurant, ca. 1960. Image from Card Cow.

But, of course, Kimball’s Green Ridge Turkey Farm was best known for its turkeys, which were sold either “drawn and ready for the oven” or “cooked and pan roasted”.  The Green Ridge also offered its own dressing and gravy.  The Green Ridge Turkey Farm got its start when George and Grace Kimball bought the 200-acre property in 1931 and soon after opened a farm stand.  Its frontage on the Daniel Webster Highway contributed to the Kimballs’ success, and, by 1938, Mr. and Mrs. Kimball expanded the stand, adding turkey sandwiches and ice cream to its offerings.  Two years later, in 1940, the Kimballs added the restaurant, and the Green Ridge’s reputation for great turkey, supplied directly from their farm, quickly caught on.  The farm quickly grew to accommodate the raising of up to 6,000 turkeys.

An advertisement for the Green Ridge Turkey Farm - 1951

The reputation of the Green Ridge as a restaurant and a turkey farm spread throughout New England during the war years.  Then, during one of its best years, just four days after Thanksgiving, disaster struck the Green Ridge.  At 6 PM on the evening of November 27, 1950, a few hours after the farm had hosted the New England Turkey Growers’ Association, Dr. Frank Flagg knocked on the door of Mr. and Mrs. Kimball’s home.  The Green Ridge, just 100 yards south from where they were sitting, was on fire.  Dr. Flagg and the Kimballs set off to alert the fire department, but couldn’t find a working telephone.  A recent storm had knocked out phone service in the area.  Eventually, others saw the smoke and flames in the sky and the calls began to arrive to the Nashua Fire Department.  The first caller told the fire department that the ‘Green Ridge farm building [was] ready to explode’.  A moment later, a call from the Wayside Furniture Company told the firefighters that something was wrong at the Green Ridge.

Kimball's Green Ridge Turkey Farm, Nashua, N.H., ca. 1945 (Courtesy: Boston Public Library Flickr Photostream)

The Central and Lake Street stations responded to the fire.  All call men were soon summoned to duty.  Firefighters arrived to find the fire at its peak and the interior of the building was completely engulfed in flames as the smoke rose skyward.  Motorists and nearby residents stopped to watch the fire.  A lack of hydrants in the area meant the firefighters had no available water.  Firefighters rushed the half-mile south to the Allen property and were able to attach a pump to a water hole.  They had finally found water to fight the fire.  But, by then, it was out of control.

By the time the fire was out, the restaurant was a total loss.  George Kimball told reporters he didn’t have adequate insurance coverage to rebuild.   The restaurant had been officially closed for the season just a couple of days before, and would have reopened the next year, on February 22.  The losses were deep, however, and the costs were formidable to replace the lost large dining room, soda fountain, and two deep freeze units, that had been holding 250 turkeys.  The Kimballs put the Green Ridge Turkey Farm on the market.

A buyer came forward and, on March 15, 1951, the Kimballs sold their Green Ridge Turkey Farm to Mr. and Mrs. Howard Flanders.  The Flanders rebuilt the restaurant, and reopened it in July 1952.

The Green Ridge Reopens - July 29, 1952. (Lowell Sun)

The Flanders’ ownership of the Green Ridge was short-lived.  After rebuilding and reopening its restaurant following the 1950 fire, they sold it to the Charpentier brothers, Luc, Victor, and Edmund, in 1954.  The Charpentier family owned the Green Ridge from 1954 through its closing in the mid-1990’s, when it was closed, razed, and replaced by a Barnes & Noble, which still stands at the site.  Still, when driving down the DW Highway in Nashua even today, I still look twice for the turkey that once stood atop the Green Ridge Turkey Farm sign perched near the Spit Brook Road intersection.  Has it really been more than 15 years since it came down?

The Barnes & Noble location in Nashua, NH - on the former site of the Green Ridge Turkey Farm (Photo from: Barnes & Noble)