With the varied components of the MBTA system, there are a vast number of resources which help to tell not only the transportation history of an area, but also the development history. Street cars were seen carrying passengers between Cambridge, Boston, and Roxbury in the 1820’s. Steam railroads were introduced in the 1830’s, and although mostly used for freight, did see some commuter service use. In 1856, horse-drawn carriages on rails were used to transport passengers around the city. The first subway was opened along Tremont Street in 1897, and that section of tunnel still carries the MBTA’s green line between Park Street and Boylston Street stations. Rapid transit arrived in 1887 with the electrification of the West End Street Railroad lines. From the 1920’s to the 1950’s some railroad rights of way were converted to rapid transit and the original railroad stations re-used.
Given the long transportation history in the greater Boston area, the MBTA system contains a large number of historic resources. Moreover, the MBTA stations, facilities and rights of way are within historical districts and adjacent to some of the nation’s most significant historical resources. The MBTA is committed to preserving and restoring its historic resources when possible. In addition the MBTA is committed to planning and developing its main infrastructure in a way that is compatible with the important resources in the area. The MBTA often provides historic interpretive displays, often at stations, to allow our customers to gain a greater understanding of the historic context of the system they are using.
Some upgrades, often required to make stations accessible, require demolishing all or parts of an historic structure. When this occurs, the MBTA works to provide a new design that is compatible with the historic environment in which the station sits.
On February 17, 2007 a new headhouse for Charles/MGH station was opened a half block east of its former location to house escalators and elevators, making the station accessible to persons with disabilities for the first time.
The station is within the boundaries of the Charles River Basin Historic District, which is listed in the State and National Registers, as well as within the boundaries of the Beacon Hill Historic District. Additionally, the station is located adjacent to the Longfellow Bridge, and the former Charles Street Jail. All of these resources are listed on the National Register for Historic Places.
The MBTA sought to build a new station that would be fully accessible to persons with disabilities as well as other safety upgrades. The architecture and the layout of the former station were such that it could not be retrofitted to accommodate elevators. The challenge on this project was to build a new station, with modern 21st century architecture but that was still compatible with the historic and architectural qualities of the adjacent historic resources.
The station’s redesign is based on the modern requirements of a transit station in a historic district. Red Line riders can now approach the new entrance at street level and, once inside the station, utilize elevators and escalators to reach the platform above. The station combines the modern look and amenities needed to handle the high volume of transit riders at the stop, along with the renovation of the historic elevated copper platform which connects to the Longfellow Bridge. The historic bridge was constructed in 1793 and was the gateway between Boston and Cambridge.
As part of the design, the MBTA sought to retain some of the elements of the former station, including retention and reuse of station elements, consisting of track, viaduct structure. The MBTA was also able to save and reuse the copper-clad platform enclosure, including the copper panels, multi-pane windows, and cast stone column enclosures that were so important to the architecture of the former station.
COPLEY SQUARE STATION
In October 2010 the MBTA completed the renovation of the Copley Square Green Line Station. The primary intent of the project was to make the station ADA compliant. The MBTA felt it was also important to make extensive repairs and perform a full historic preservation of the 1914 Beaux Arts Headhouse located in front of the Boston Public Library.
Copley Square is one of the most historic areas in Boston consisting of important structures such as the Boston Public Library McKimm building, the Old South Church, Trinity Church, by the renowned architect HH Richardson as well as the historic landscape in front of the Trinity Church. The design of the new station emphasizes the beauty of the old and new surrounding structures. With the new design the station is accessible for everyone, and also had a look and feel of the historic buildings of the square.
The head house was originally designed by the Boston architecture firm Fox and Gale and built by the Hecla Winslow firm of Chicago, famous for their iron and bronze work adorning New York City’s Grand Central Station and the Dakota apartments. Prior to its restoration, the wrought iron and glass Beaux-Arts style head house had become the victim of decades of deferred maintenance and inappropriate repairs and renovations. Since the initial 1915 completion, periodic modernization and rehabilitation efforts have occurred, but through time and neglect, the fine craftsmanship of the structure became obscured by graffiti, thick layers of paint, rust, and less than sympathetic renovations and repairs. The last known renovation to the historic head house was in 1959. At the time of the Copley Station Accessibility project, the cast iron head house was in a serious state of decline.
The MBTA hired DeAngelis Iron Work of Easton, Massachusetts to perform the work needed for the restoration. The dismantling of the building resulted in over 1,000 different sections that needed to be tagged and catalogued. They used traditional blacksmith techniques along with modern technology to remove the old paint and corrosion. Models were used to reassemble the pieces to exact specification, and when needed, Cumberland Foundry in Rhode Island cast new pieces that replicated the originals. In the end the DeAngelis company was able to save ninety percent of the original structure, and the MBTA made sure its riders could access the station safely, while keeping the historic and architectural integrity of the building.
WEST CONCORD STATION
Built in 1894 and called Union Station, the Depot was constructed at the junction of three major railroads serving Concord Junction (now called West Concord) which was then an important industrial center. The original station was tri-colored and has been described as either Italianate or Queen Anne style architecture. In its original state, the building had yellow painted clapboards above vertical red wainscoting and green colored trim. There were copper finials, and a nine foot roof overhang.
In 2006 the Town of Concord along with the Friends of West Concord Depot approached the MBTA to create a unique partnership to renovate the exterior of the depot which had unfortunately been altered in the 1980’s by installing a faux brick encapsulation of the building. These alterations were inconsistent with the historic elements of the station and diminished its value as a National Register historic resource. The Town voted at town meeting to fund half of the project with funds from the Community Preservation Act, and the MBTA agreed to pay the other half needed to complete the project. Since the alterations were performed, the building fell into serious disrepair. The faux brick was worn, exterior wood had rotted, the slate roof was missing tiles, and the supporting beams for the roof hangover were failing. The renovation of the exterior of the West Concord Station involved repairing the slate roof properly, removing the faux brick and replacing the clapboard and wainscoting, and replace rotting soffits and structural beams. In the interior the baggage room is again separated from the rest of the facility.
On Wednesday, July 30, 2008 a ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the West Concord Depot to celebrate the completed renovation and rehabilitation of the exterior of the historical building. The Concord Station now houses a very popular local restaurant which serves traditional diner style food. By adapting the station to a new use, the MBTA and the Town of Concord are ensuring that the building stays active, maintained and in good condition, and preserving the historic resource in a good working state.
In April 2009 the Town of Concord and the MBTA were recognized by the Massachusetts Historical Commission for the restoration and rehabilitation of the West Concord Depot and was presented the 2009 Massachusetts Historical Commission Preservation Award.
WHITMAN ROUNDHOUSE PARK
During the environmental review process for the Old Colony Railroad Rehabilitation Project, archaeologists located the foundations of an 1880s Old Colony Railroad steam locomotive facility at the site of the proposed Whitman, Massachusetts, commuter rail passenger station. The integrity of the site and its location adjacent to a planned high-level passenger platform made it an ideal candidate for interpretation. As part of the site's historic preservation program, the MBTA agreed to completely excavate the site and develop it as an interpretive archaeological park.The MBTA compiled a team including a landscape architect, materials conservator, stonemasons, and other contractors to design and build Whitman Roundhouse Park which uses a combination of landscaping and signage to explain to commuters and visitors how the site functioned. The interpretive signage tells the history of the site and the excavation of the steam locomotive maintenance features, which include the track layout, engine house, turntable pit, and water tank foundations, and includes a discussion of the features and artifacts uncovered. The park, which was donated to the Town of Whitman by the MBTA, is a dramatic example of how the history and function of an industrial landscape can be interpreted through public archaeology. The park has received a number of awards including Historic Preservation Merit Award presented by the U.S. Department of Transportation.