Imagine: Building an entire subway tunnel in less than three years

Tremont Street in 1897.Tremont Street in 1897.

Today's the 115th anniversary of the opening of the oldest subway in North America - the tunnel between Boylston and Park Street. The scene above, from the Library of Congress, shows Tremont Street in the months leading up to the tunnel opening, when above-ground trolleys still ran down Tremont, even during construction of the tunnel.

Mass Moments recounts the opening of the subway - with its first ride at 6 a.m. sharp on the morning of Sept. 1, 1897. Somerville and Medford residents might be particularly interested in how construction took only 2 1/2 years. However, not everybody supported the project:

The first section was laid out along the edge of the Old Common Burial Ground. Workers saw only a few gravestones as they began digging, but they would eventually unearth the remains of over 900 unmarked graves, an unsettling discovery. The Boston Post jumped on the story, running it under the headline "Hideous Germs Lurk in Underground Air" with an illustration of a large, scary-looking "subway microbe." The pastor of the Park Street Church, called the subway "an infernal hole" and "an un-Christian outrage" when a water main ruptured, coating his office with mud. "Who?" he asked from the pulpit, "is the Boss in charge of the work? It is the Devil!"

Also, an explosion at Boylston and Tremont killed nine workers.

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Blue Line

By on

Too bad the Blue Line has never been able to do anything that fast again. Including getting me where I need to go.

It's too easy to romanticize

It's too easy to romanticize the past as a time elegance and propriety.

Yet 100 years ago the job of pushing American Indians into concentrated areas had just been completed. Children worked and were sometimes maimed in factories. African Americans were largely stuck in an American apartheid system in the South. Gays and Lesbians were collectively classified under the term deviants and perverts.

I'll take a few ill-dressed, rude people any day over America 100 years ago.

We should be ashamed of all

By on

We should be ashamed of all of civilizations accomplishments because of past failures. Yeah, real productive navel gazing there.

2-1/2 to 3 years to excavate

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2-1/2 to 3 years to excavate (and pave, lay track, etc...) for a tunnel 1500 feet long beside a street, under open ground?

Not running under Tremont Street (mostly).
Not worrying about building foundations.

Yeah, it was mostly unprecedented on this side of the Atlantic at that point in time, but did the people of the time view it as fast work? Did they say "Imagine!"? Did they say "only took 2 1/2 years!"?