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The Building of the Boston & Worcester Turnpike 1931

When the Boston & Worcester Turnpike opened in 1931 and land for development of small business became available, the focus turned from the downtown Westborough business district to the new Turnpike.

 

Introduction to the

BOSTON & WORCESTER TURNPIKE

1931

 

Since 1810, the land bordering the old Worcester Turnpike was developed exclusively as agriculture and diary farming. Commercial manufacturing, retail and most of the single family residences were located in the downtown area. However, when the Boston & Worcester Turnpike opened in 1931 and land for development of small businesses became available, the focus turned from the downtown Westborough business district to the new Turnpike.

Although the 1930s were the decade of the Great Depression which created a 25 percent national unemployment rate, it was also a time of small business growth and change along the Turnpike and downtown Westborough. The Depression began in 1927 with a recession that eventually caused the stock market crash in October of 1929 creating a world wide depression.

Despite the Depression, the farms along the Turnpike were well established and not only supported their extended families but also provided milk and beef, fruits and vegetables to the Boston and Worcester markets. However, during the next decade, one half of the designated farm properties along the Turnpike totally ceased or experienced limited operations as “working farms."

As the Depression worsened, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provided money to finance large road construction and infrastructure projects throughout the state, including Westborough and surrounding towns. The construction of the Boston & Worcester Turnpike was started in 1930 and employed hundreds of laborers, equipment operators and support people. The Turnpike was completed in 1931 and additional road improvement projects were underway on Flanders Road and Nourse Street.

Although the Boston & Worcester trolley line discontinued service January 16, 1931, the buses began running on a half hour schedule the next morning. When the Turnpike was opened in September of 1931, there were no gas stations or ice cream stands, no auto dealerships or restaurants. Cars, trucks and buses sped through the area passing through pasturelands, orchards, past farmhouses and barns, produce farms and woodlands. But two years later, in between the farmhouses, gas stations were popping up at the intersections, ice cream stands, restaurants and tourist cabins were being built to attract the tourists, traveler and work force. Although it was a difficult time for many, it was still a time of growth along the new highway.

Although there was an obvious decline in dairy farming, there was an accelerated rise in greenhouse agriculture and farm stands that had initially began at the turn of the century.   

No sooner had the Turnpike opened than Montrose Dairy was built in May of 1932. The first ice cream stand was built on the 38 acres of the Potterton Farm on the Turnpike.

Also in 1931, the Rotary was constructed that replaced Fairbanks Square and 34 decorative wrought iron street lights were installed in the downtown area. It was dubbed the “White Way.” A new brick post office was financed by Frank Forbes and opened in April. In March of 1931, construction began on a new road from the Boston Post Road in Northborough to the new Turnpike and beyond to Shrewsbury. This road was called the Southwest Cutoff and later designated as Massachusetts Route 20. In June of 1932, the Boston & Worcester Turnpike was officially designated as Massachusetts Route 9, though the town named it Belmont Street.

 

The Building of the Boston & Worcester Turnpike

In the mid-1920s, state and local officials became increasingly concerned with the rapid growth of motor vehicle traffic throughout the area. The traffic started at the end of World War I. However, many of the roads throughout Massachusetts were unimproved, including the Worcester Turnpike. Therefore, improvements to existing roads and building of new roads became a primary objective and these projects were supported by state and federal funding. But the focus was on developing a Boston to Worcester route that would support the ever expanding Worcester manufacturing and business development. For the next several years, state and local officials contemplated the options available to resolve this transportation dilemma.

The old Worcester Turnpike was originally built in 1810 by venture capitalists. It was laid out in a straight east to west route only skirting Fayville and Framingham centers. Because it took a straight line, it went over the hills and into the valleys west of Framingham. Although it was a very difficult road for freight haulers, it was a very fast road. Unlike the Boston Post Road, the Turnpike impacted few residential properties but, in many cases, split large tracts of farmland and undeveloped properties.

However, the Turnpike had been virtually abandoned since 1840 with the exception of localized traffic. This allowed the Boston Post Road to evolve as the road of choice of the teamsters, stagecoaches and heavy merchandise haulers. Boston Post Road was laid out during the early colonial period and meandered through many populated town centers, business areas and past many historic homes that were built near the road. Although the road was built to avoid geographic obstructions, thus making it an easier route, it was a much longer and slower journey when compared with the Turnpike.

If the Post Road were chosen for the new highway, there would be significant land takings, building relocations and the total disruption of the densely populated communities along the way. The cost of land taking by eminent domain and moving buildings would have been cost prohibitive, not to mention the engineering costs to improve the road to a four-lane highway.

Marlborough officials wanted the new highway. From the beginning of talks regarding a more expeditious route from Boston to Worcester, the City of Marlborough had been lobbying hard for the state to choose the Post Road as the road of choice. City officials, Chamber of Commerce and other civic groups were united in support of the Post Road.

In sharp contrast, officials in the Town of Shrewsbury were adamantly opposed to a new road going through their town center. They cited irreparable damages to the bucolic commons and historic homes in Shrewsbury Center.

After continued diplomatic talks with County Commissioners and community officials, site walks and engineering studies, the first public announcement was made February 8, 1929, to build a new express highway from Boston to Worcester taking the exact route of the old Worcester Turnpike. It would begin at the intersection of Maple Avenue and the Turnpike in Shrewsbury and terminate in Brookline.

For the next year, negotiations took place with landowners, farmers and residents regarding land takings, road width, bridges and other concerns. Westborough Selectmen and others wanted a six-lane road with a dedicated truck lane, a travel lane, and a passing lane plus a boulevard separating the east and westbound lanes. Additionally a bridge and underpass were requested at the Milk, East Main and Lyman Street intersections.

In February 1930, the state finalized the details of the proposed road. It would be built with four 10-foot concrete lanes with a third lane of an asphalt material on each side. The level-grade crossings at East Main Street and Milk Street were engineered with an underpass and a bridge at each. The original Milk Street became the ramp roads on the east side while a new Milk Street was built 400 feet west with an underpass and a new bridge while new ramp roads were constructed on the west side. East Main Street would be moved several hundred feet east and the old East Main Street would become the access roads on the westerly side of the new bridge (a mistake which significantly hampers traffic flows today). A new bridge over the Assabet River would replace the wooden Willow Bridge.

The Otis and Lyman Street intersections would remain as level grade crossings with the new road. However, at each crossing a modern system of rotary traffic was installed. Three islands, one in the center of the intersection and one in each in the throats of the cross street, provided a safe method of travel. The road would be divided by a boulevard (median). The median from the Northborough line to Park Street would be 30 feet wide to accommodate the Boston & Worcester Trolley Line, elsewhere along the road it would be 20 feet wide. The cost would be an estimated $215,000 per mile.

As requested by Lyman School officials, a pedestrian underpass would be constructed to allow the boys to cross safely under the new road to ride the trolley or go to work at the railroad siding on Milk Street and to pick up supplies and coal for the power plant.

The state took land from approximately 40 property owners by eminent domain and moved or razed buildings within the right of way. The state paid for the relocation of each building and the fair market value for undeveloped land. Additionally, an agreement was struck with the abutters that would provide 13 median crossings to compensate the farmers whose land had been divided by the new road.

In June, the Selectmen set standards for the development of the new road anticipating a marked increase in motor vehicle traffic. There were to be “NO GAS SHACKS” but any new business required a site plan review and a $5,000 security bond before a new building was permitted. In July, two permits were granted, one to Al Bowman for the southeast corner of the Turnpike and Lyman Street, and the other to Donald Wood for the northwest corner of the Turnpike and Oak Street.

By midsummer of 1930, the construction contracts were awarded for the road building portion. Carlo Bianchi Construction Company of Ashland was awarded the contract for Zone B, Grafton Street in Shrewsbury to Lyman Street in Westborough. B. Perini Construction Co. of Framingham had Zone C, Lyman Street to Whites Corner, Southborough. Separate contracts would be awarded for bridge building and others to move or raze buildings.

When contracts were awarded, over 1,000 laborers and equipment operators were on site and needed food and lodging. In similar situations, tents and railroad boxcars were provided for shelter. The Bianchi Company built a large bunkhouse for its workers at the Sam DeBoer Farm.

In July, two homes on the Turnpike at Park Street owned by Minnie Burhoe () and Margaret Ord was situated 25 feet within the new right of way. They were lifted and moved 50 feet back from the edge of the new right of way and placed on new foundations.

As the final plans for the new turnpike were concluding, negotiations continued on a settlement for the purchase of the right of way of the Boston & Worcester Street Railway that ran along a 1.5-mile distance down the middle of the new Boston & Worcester Turnpike. After a number of meetings, a final price was agreed to at $140,000. During the time of construction of the new turnpike, the railway line would be relocated to the center of the new median and continue to operate until Jan. 16, 1931.

As construction of the new road rapidly progressed, Paul T. Babson, president of the railway corporation, was granted a temporary permit by the Department of Public Utilities to operate bus services over the turnpike. The company now held the exclusive franchise for bus transportation between Boston and Worcester on the new turnpike as well as the Post Road.

To take advantage of the topography of the area, the new East Main Street was moved to the east to accommodate the new underpass/bridge. During the widening at this point several acres of the Scott Farm were taken, and the Harrington Farm barn was razed. The new underpass was then cut into existing hill and the new bridge spanned the cut.

The Harrington Barn was separated from the farm house by the Worcester Turnpike in 1810. When the Boston &Worcester Turnpike was built this barn was taken as part of eminent domain in 1930.

In November 1930, Perini Construction Co. encountered a preexisting condition that had been a major engineering concern in earlier years. The area just west of the Harrington Farm and east of the Bowman Farm in the Bellows Road area was known as the Old Causeway, a wetlands area that in 1810 was the site of considerable excavation and filling to stop the road from sinking into the bottomless peat bog. Perini decided to dynamite the old causeway to remove the peat in order to obtain a substantial footing and to stabilize the area for the new road bed. However, the blasting caused extensive damage to the Harrington, Scott and Horace Forbush residences, pelting the homes with blasted materials, breaking windows, damaging roofs and disrupting water service from the local wells. Then truckloads of rock and material from the new East Main Street cut were hauled to the site and dumped into the abyss in an attempt to stabilize the site.

No sooner had the last trolley passed the Otis Street car barn Jan. 16, 1931, headed for Worcester than Bianchi Construction Company steam shovels moved in to remove the rails and ties to begin the landscaping of the new 30-foot wide median that stretched from Park Street to the Northborough line. Before the day was over the utility poles were taken down and the wire rolled up and carted off to the Framingham car barn. Three decades of trolley service had ended without a trace of its presence along the Turnpike. The following day the Boston & Worcester Bus Company began half-hour runs along the unfinished lanes of the new road. Ironically, the trolleys never ran along side the cars on Westborough’s portion of the Turnpike

Dynamiting the ledge at the Milk Street underpass caused extensive damage to Reverend Tomlin’s Rest Home at the northeast corner of Milk Street and the Turnpike. Five-pound rocks pelted the roof breaking many slate roof tiles, windows and violently shaking the building. Fire Chief Blois who issued the blasting permit assured the Rev. Tomlin that all damages would be paid by the contractor as there was a damages bond required as part of the permit approval.

From April to June, bus service was detoured around the work zone at Oak Street through the Lyman School to Milk Street to Lilac Hedge Road (Davis Street), Northborough, to the Post Road then into Shrewsbury Center. Although very inconvenient, it was necessary to allow work on the new bridges as well as the final preparation before concreting the new highway.

As soon as the weather (a freeze) was no longer a threat, then the newest in road-building equipment was introduced by the Bianchi Co. Two large cement spreaders that ran on 10-foot wide tracks where brought to the site to lay the cement. The dry cement was brought by train to the Montan siding off of Otis Street and then trucked to the site and mixed with piped water from a spring-fed stream just over the Shrewsbury line. The machines laid 1,300 feet of concrete a day.

It was estimated it would take 35 days to lay the four 10-foot lanes from Lyman Street to Grafton Street, Shrewsbury, and then 21 days for the concrete to cure. At the end of each day Bianchi would station a policeman at each intersection to protect the new pavement from being damaged. In late May, Bianchi completed the new Milk Street underpass and opened the road for north-south traffic. Later the ramp roads were finished but were kept closed to the Turnpike.

On June 19, 1931, the four concrete lanes were ready for vehicle traffic, and the bridges finished. Bianchi laid off the police details and unofficially allowed vehicles on the road from Lyman Street to Grafton Street. However, the finish work continued on the outside macadam lanes and the landscaping in the median and along the slopes. Soy was planted along the entire road which was to be plowed under in September when grass was planted. One million square feet of reinforced concrete were laid down to complete Zone B.

On Sept. 4, 1931, Perini Co. completed Zone C with the exception of the Causeway area. Although state officials were concerned with this area, they officially opened the Boston and Worcester Turnpike from Whites Corner, Southborough, to the Boston Post Road, Shrewsbury. Upon opening the road, the state counted 15,000 cars per day on the new road.

It didn’t take long before the onslaught of motor vehicle mayhem began. Without posted speed limits and the absence of any police enforcement, the road became an actual speedway. Two weeks after the new road opened, the first crash was documented as a two car T bone accident at the Park Street crossing of the Pike and the first speeding ticket was issued by state police for 71 mph.

In October, selectmen cited a marked increase in cross traffic at the Pike and Lyman St. intersection and petitioned the state to install traffic lights that were trip activated to help ensure safety for the motoring public. The state agreed to install a “Stop n Go” traffic control light at Lyman Street.

On December 11, 1931, the Westborough Planning Board called for Zoning Requirements along the new road. The board became concerned with an influx of “Hot Dog Stands,” but they encouraged farm stands.

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