Opinion

Jourgensen: A town of trains and trolleys

Sometimes you dig deep to learn about history; other times you stumble on a treasure trove illuminating the past. That’s what happened when I walked into the Al Merritt Media Center at MarketStreet. 

The walls in the Center’s meeting room are lined with great bygone Lynnfield photographs complete with captions. They reveal how superficial impressions of a community can be deceptive. 

It’s easy to think of Lynnfield as a small town. But the photos chronicle the town’s late 19th century and 20th century history as a transportation center. One photo shows the “Salem trolley” rolling through town with its open sides resembling San Francisco cable cars.

According to the photo captions, a community bus and several early 20th century transit services competed for Lynnfield customers at a time when cars were a luxury and horses still provided transportation and labor on farms. 

Passenger trains ran through town until 1958 with a crossing located on Summer Street. It’s interesting to think about trains crisscrossing the town decades ago only to fade into memory and resurface in the last two years as a backdrop to the rail trail debate. 

The sound of steel wheels clattering past homes must have been more intrusive than the whir of bicycle wheels passing backyards on the rail trail. I spent part of my childhood in a small Colorado town and the Denver Zephyr’s horn summoned us to our bicycles for a mad dash to the railroad crossing where we would watch the engine’s light grow from a yellow dot to a blinding white disk. 

A little research reveals more about Lynnfield’s transportation history, including the electric car line that ran between Salem and Corbett’s Corner, North Saugus. Boston and Maine railroad operated a Georgetown branch until, “Lack of profit resulted in both forms of transportation being abandoned,” according to a 1952 Daily Evening Item story. 

Lynnfield Community, Inc. provided transportation until 1951 when Hudson Bus Lines bought the service. Once a dirt path, Route 1 as we know it today, was resurfaced in 1909 and upgraded in the 1920s.

Speaking of Summer Street, the Merritt photographs also show Russell’s store on Summer near Forest Hill Avenue as well as other businesses, including Worthen’s Food Mart, the Pioneer Shop, Gates Pharmacy and Lynnfield Jewelers.

The former general store where these businesses were located claimed the title of Lynnfield’s first mall long before Route 1 sprouted up and spawned shopping malls. Route 1’s growth is chronicled in several photos featured on the Merritt room’s walls.

It’s interesting to contemplate ways the highway transformed old Lynnfield. Obviously, automobiles made trolleys and bus services obsolete and businesses that prospered in town ended up competing with ones opening first on the turnpike and later on the highway. 

There is a photograph of “The New Lynnfield Hotel.” It was built to replace its predecessor destroyed by fire in 1896. Alas, the new Lynnfield Hotel burned down in 1904.

By the time work finished on Route 1, hotels and motels in towns like Lynnfield were an inconvenience to drivers who could pull off the highway and stay in a “motor court” yards away from the road.

Lynnfield’s yesteryears still survive with the Good Luck Farms sign hanging where the long-gone restaurant was once located next to Goodwin’s. The town’s golf courses remain as a tribute of sorts to former links like Pocahontas Golf which, according to a photo caption, was “said to cause weekend traffic jams.”

Fortunately, the town’s history is preserved in photographs, including Ross Barn on Main Street where blacksmiths once labored, and Gerry’s cider mill where wagons filled with apples lined up to supply the cider and vinegar presses. 

It’s interesting to read that the former town hall replaced the Meeting House as Lynnfield’s seat of government in 1892 and the public library was originally on Centre Street. 

There’s plenty to meet the eye when it comes to learning about Lynnfield’s history.

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