Interviewed September 9, 1992
A two part interview with Bob Carter with title
The Railroad Depot as Gathering Place
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
We continue the popularity of railroad stations as a gathering place, as a very vital commercial area. You remember very vividly life around the Depot.
Oh, yes, I certainly do. I think of a happy childhood. Railroad stations seem to conjure up romantic and exciting memories of vacations enjoyed or the arrival of visitors from afar. If the Concord Depot could talk, it would have fascinating stories to tell. For instance: When Ralph Waldo Emerson's house burned in 1873, his friends raised so much money to rebuild it, there was enough left over for Emerson and his daughter Ellen to go abroad and sail up the Nile. On their return to Concord a holiday was declared. A huge crowd met them at the Depot for a wonderful celebration. School children were given the day off and were drawn up in two smiling rows through which Emerson passed. He was greeted by enthusiastic cheers and songs of welcome. All followed his carriage to his home and sang "Home Sweet Home" to the music of the band. He entered under an arch. A few days afterward he invited everyone to call and see him in his new home. This festive occasion, starting at the Depot, was a tribute to a well-loved fellow citizen. I think my aunt Mamie Goulding may have been there; my father would have been three years old.
I lived 1/2 mile from the Depot, across the tracks, on Fairhaven Road, in a neighborhood known as Hubbardville. The houses nearer the Depot were called the "Back of the Depot" neighborhood.
We were teased that we lived on the wrong side of the tracks, but we countered that if it were good enough for Charles Francis Adams it was good enough for us. He was a descendant of Presidents John and John Quincy Adams, a former Secretary of the Navy, and had built a house resembling Mount Vernon at the top of Fairhaven Hill. He was driven each day to the Depot, when he was in residence, by his coachman, to take the train to Boston. In the winter his sleigh was the only one I couldn't "hop," he had such a fast black horse and his coachman always tapped the horse with his whip as we tried to get on the runners. It was so frustrating!
My first memories of the Depot were of being taken on the train to Boston by my mother when I was quite small, to shop and have lunch. A big event. Mother had lived in a small New Hampshire village, but trained to be a nurse in Boston. She always loved Boston and often returned, luckily for us, because we learned about the vast resources there on our many train trips. We also went to New York City by train to visit an aunt when I was five.
In 1938 my younger sister, after graduation from college, obtained her first job as a social worker in the Mexican center of Guadeloupe in the Mexican center of Kansas City, Missouri. Since she was going so far away, the famous Minuteman Express stopped at the Concord Depot to allow her to board. It usually thundered through Concord at a mile a minute every afternoon at four and sent a thrill through all of us.
The same year another of our neighbors boarded the Minuteman Express to go to Pearl Harbor to marry her fiance, Van Kennedy, who was working there in an emergency defense job. Luckily they escaped with their lives when the bombs fell in 1941. A crowd of us waved furiously seeing her off at the Depot, as we had when my sister left.
From the time I went to school in 1914, I walked down Sudbury Road and crossed the tracks, turned right onto Thoreau Street and left onto Hubbard Street to the old Ripley, Emerson and Peter Bulkeley Schools. Later I walked to the old, old high school now town down for a parking lot, one mile each way from my home.
There were gates at the tracks manually operated by a wonderful crossing tender named Mr. Mullen. He didn't live in Concord but was every child's friend who looked out for our safety. He stayed in a tiny shack with no amenities, but had a pot-bellied stove which he tended in winter. He sat outdoors in good weather, greeting one and all. My brother often played checkers with him in his shack. The same system prevailed at the Belknap Street crossing. We crossed four times a day because we had an hour and a half break to walk home for lunch. After school my mother sent me to the Thoreau Street stores frequently.
Across from the Depot was the McManus Brothers livery stable, established in 1891, where tourists were supplied carriages, horses for sale and exchange. A horse and carriage usually met each train that stopped in Concord. It later became a garage where we had our car repaired, then a bowling alley which burned down in the late 1930s or thereabouts. Now there is a real estate office and a hair salon at the corner of Middle Street and Thoreau Street.
On the opposite corner of Middle Street where the Concord Package Store now is, was John Bartolomeo's Fruit Store affectionately known as John Bananas. He had many staples, newspapers, tobacco, penny candy and ice cream, a popular meeting place if you had any spending money. It seemed to me I hardly ever had any money. We had no allowance until we went to work. A brother of John, Salvatore, who also emigrated from Italy, had a fruit store where the West Concord 5 & 10 cent store is now.
On the other side of the fruit store was Cutler's Grocery Store where we did not trade. Where Priest's Cleaners are now were Byron's Grocery Store and Whitney's Meat Market. Mr. Byron had a jovial clerk named Patrick McPhillips whom everyone called Paddy. He came two or three times a week to his customers to take orders and delivered the goods later in the day. One summer before I was the legal age, Paddy taught me to drive the Model T Ford delivery truck. I drove from my home at the beginning of Fairhaven Road almost up to where Route 2 is now and back. I'm sure I badgered Paddy into teaching me. I remember stalling the Model T almost every time I started it up.
Since Whitney's Market did not have the same service, I had to go there when I got home from school to buy meat for supper. Mr. Whitney and his helpers.Dan Chisolm and Emil Nelson were fine gentlemen in long white coats who made me feel comfortable ordering the correct size of meat for our family.
On the corner of Sudbury Road and Thoreau Street where Friendly's is now, was Caleb Wheeler's big barn. They lived at 120 Sudbury Road where the Beedes are now and there was no other house or dentist building between their house and barn.
Beside the Depot was the American Express Company where Coggins' Bakery and the train waiting room are now. An expressman wheeled a large cart to the freight car on each train, took off packages, bicycles, ice boxes, whatever had been ordered from Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, or Jordan Marsh and delivered it by horse and carriage, pung or eventually truck. It did a big business without obvious competition except horse-drawn conveyances.
On the other side of the tracks there were many businesses. Where Wilson Lumber Co. is now, was B.W. Brown Grain Co. Behind that was the James Barrett Wood Coal Co. The lumber yard and office for Wilson Lumber were back there. McGann's Blacksmith Shop backed up to Grant Street. It was so old it was swayed back, partially caved in and out on one side was a mound of discarded horseshoes. Herbert Nealy was a true artist who painted carriages very fancy with little pin stripes in his shop. He had stored a fantastic collection of beautiful carriages in which the Depot children played hide and seek.
In the blacksmith's yard was a barn where Daiglan Curran had a couple of pigs and cows where a lot of neighbors bought their milk in one or two-quart cans, filled each evening.
My father was in the painting and decorating business known as Hanley and Goulding which had a paint shop in this area. The men tried out each color being mixed on the outside of the shop. It would please the Surrealists, I feel sure, and might compete with a Picasso.
I'm not sure who owned this property where these businesses were all jumbled together without any plan, but they seemed to prosper and be a necessary part of the community. Nellie Towler Broderick thinks it Was owned by J.B. Wood and the Wilsons.
My favorite blacksmith shop was on Sudbury Road where the entrances to Stop and Shop are now. It was so beautiful I wept when it was torn down. I thought it should have been preserved as a perfect example of a necessity of the horse and buggy age. I used to walk slowly by there, listening to the clanging of the anvil and seeing the glow of the fire, with horses waiting outside. Gus and his son Johnny Moreau kept it shipshape.
The Depot was part of a larger world to us as children. We were fascinated by the station master in his office behind the grille where he sold tickets and stamped them, and by the rat-a-tat-tat of the telegraph ticking off messages. There were always strangers there, usually smartly dressed, which encouraged us to imagine what brought them to Concord or where they were going.
The railroad employees were an important group in the town and you would little guess today how important a man the station agent was. In 1896 both the one at Concord Junction and the one in Concord were on the School Committee and each later served as a Selectman of the town for several years.
The cattle show in back of the Depot was important in the town. It was where Elsinore and Belknap Streets used to end, making a large field on the bank of the Sudbury River. The Depot gang of young people always played baseball and other games there. The Depot was the destination of shows coming to the grounds. I remember attending the circuses there each year and never forgot the time I went into a side show to see the snake charmer. I had nightmares for a long time. The trains brought horses and carriages for the sulky racing, as well as people to watch that and the circuses.
When the circus trains were put on sidings, the elephants were marched up Belknap Street to the cattle show grounds where the tents were pitched. On Cottage Lane was an area known as "the patch." Along one of the sidings- were holding pens for cattle which were driven up Grant Street or Belknap Street, crossed the tracks and loaded into the cattle cars. I saw many of the cattle go down Sudbury Road from Nine Acre Corner past our house.
We always planned to watch the Barnum & Bailey Circus go through Concord by train. We'd go to the crossing to get a better view of the animals going slowly by, announced in the Boston paper the day before. We always wondered how the giraffes survived going under bridges en route with their heads in the air. My father always took us to Boston on the train to see the Big Top.
I'd like to refer to a party honoring Mrs. Herman Hansen's 89th birthday in 1975. The Back of the Depot crowd had a wonderful reunion of the Irish, Italian, Canadians, Swedes and Norwegians who lived harmoniously together for many years.
I'm glad the railroad brought my grandfather and grandmother to Concord where they were married in 1864. I like living in a place where there is a railroad depot and I still like to hear the train whistle, especially at night.