Oil Painting By Alden Goodnow
History Of The Danvers Railroad
The Essex Railroad first came to Danvers in 1849, providing connections to Lawrence, Salem and Boston. Shortly thereafter, a northern link was completed to Newburyport. The advent of the railroad rapidly diminished the importance of Danversport as the central delivery point for goods, and replaced the stagecoach as the common form of overland passenger travel. The Boston and Maine Railroad assumed formal lease of the line 1860. By 1899, there were nine stations, and 21 passenger trains ran daily between Danvers and Boston.
The line, known as the “Newburyport Railroad,” served as a competitive alternative to the powerful Eastern Railroad, which connected coastal communities to Boston and Portland. Express trains linked Danvers to Boston in a bit over half an hour, and one 1899 account notes that “a night theatre train gives great satisfaction to a large number of patrons.” According to the same source, the railroad became an economic engine: “…Nor are the freight facilities behind the passenger traffic; no matter what part of the town you are located if you wish to send or receive freight to or from any direction you have but a short distance to haul it, for so liberally are the stations located along the lines of the road that all parts of the town are accommodated.”
The “Iron Rails” carried various shipments including wood, coal, hay, and grain into Danvers, and carried away leather goods, shoes and bricks to distant markets. Connections now linked Danvers so that “one can start at any hour for almost any town in New England and make the journey in an almost incredibly short time.” Passenger service was provided on this line to Topsfield until 1950, when it was cut back to Danvers; a single daily round trip was operated until 1959. The line was taken out of service in 1977 and formally abandoned between 1981 and 2005. A well-preserved freight house still stands just north of Charter Street, and the original depot awaits preservation after it was moved to a lot off Cherry Street. The MBTA assumed ownership of the Danvers stretch of the old Newburyport line in 1976.
Committees to develop the existing underused and abandoned railroad corridor into a linear park were formed as early as the 1970’s, and the idea for a shared-use recreational path has been seriously considered for over a decade. This concept has been part of past and current versions of the Danvers Open Space and Recreation Plan and the Community Development Plan.
In November of 2008, the Town signed a 99-year lease agreement with the MBTA to convert this corridor “from a former use as a railroad right-of-way to a revitalized use as a publicly owned, improved and maintained corridor for bicycle, pedestrian and other non-motorized public transportation, recreation and associated purposes.”
In July of 2009, the Town Manager appointed a nine-member Rail Trail Advisory Committee (RTAC) consisting of members with broad representation from the community. The Committee is working to develop the trail using the salvage rights for existing rails and ties with the help of Iron Horse Preservation, a non-profit group that develops rail trails in exchange for the salvage value of the rails, at no charge to the community.
The trail will serve as a non-motorized shared-use path linking schools, the downtown, parks, and residential neighborhoods along this beautiful green corridor. A grant from the Essex National Heritage Commission will help ensure that the history of the railroad is told through a series of interpretive signs in key locations, commemorating the trail’s link to this important feature of the Danvers landscape and its history.