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Rare Glimpse into a Hidden Subterranean World

Boston’s abandoned subway tunnels and stations


Underneath Boston’s skyscrapers and sidewalks lies a hidden, long-forgotten labyrinth of abandoned subway stations and tunnels—vestiges of the country’s first subway system. Subway and history buffs will have a rare opportunity to glimpse images of this ghostly world tomorrow when Brad Clarke, president of the Boston Street Railway Association (BSRA), will present photographs and footage at the BSRA’s monthly public meeting. The event is free.

A noted transit historian, Clarke had to complete MBTA Right-of-Way training courses and be accompanied by MBTA personnel to be admitted to the long-sealed stations and tunnels known to only a few. He’ll share stories about how these tunnels were used, why there were sealed up, and what they tell us about Boston’s early transit system, the precursor to today’s MBTA.

Included in Saturday’s presentation will be photographs of the upper Broadway station, used for only two years, from 1917 to 1919; Maverick station’s streetcar loop; the Court Street station, closed in 1952 as the city’s streetcar era drew to an end; the former underground rapid transit yard at Harvard Square; the lost subway station at Northeastern University, and more. Clarke will also show photos of a film crew in the abandoned Tremont Street Subway (south of Boylston Street), taken while they made a documentary for the Travel Channel in 2011.

In addition, videos of Clarke’s various underground expeditions will be shown, including a 2009 trip with the Boston Globe to view parts of the abandoned tunnel system, work done for the Travel Channel documentary, and scenes from a documentary produced last year by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Boston Under: After Hours. Vintage 16mm films of Boston’s transit system that haven’t been seen in years will be shown as well.

The BSRA is an educational nonprofit that works to explore the history of public transportation in the greater Boston area and to preserve present-day activities for future generations. In addition to its monthly meetings, the organization runs a streetcar restoration program (it is currently restoring a historic Type 5 streetcar, #5706, that ran in Boston until the 1950s) and publishes the bimonthly transit news magazine Rollsign and other publications.

The Boston Street Railway Association’s meeting is tomorrow, Saturday, August 4, at 7:30 p.m., at the Grand Lodge of Masons Paul Revere Room (first floor), 186 Tremont St., Boston. By public transportation, take any MBTA Green Line trolley to Boylston Street. A short business briefing will be held before the approximately two-hour entertainment portion, at about 8:15 p.m. The BSRA’s monthly meetings are free and open to the public.

Andreia DeVries can be reached at adevries@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @andreia_dev.


5 Comments on Rare Glimpse into a Hidden Subterranean World

  • Duney Roberts on 08.03.2012 at 12:08 pm

    I. Must. Attend.

  • Brittany on 08.06.2012 at 8:52 am

    I’m so bummed that I missed this! :(

  • Kyle Potter on 08.07.2012 at 4:44 pm

    aw man! I can’t believe I missed this! (also, I’ve always wanted to go inside the Mason’s Lodge)….

    • DB on 02.12.2013 at 1:18 pm

      If you want to take a tour of the Grand Lodge building, all you have to do is call them and ask.

  • Chaika on 05.31.2013 at 3:09 pm

    Little error above? Court Street Station (Blue Line) closed ‘way earlier, like 1916 or whereabouts. The Blue Line was still a trolley line for some years after this closure. I think the issue was that trolley poles aren’t totally flexible or rotate-able and little one-track (?) Court Street didn’t allow a trolley to reverse direction unless the car was built with 2 poles facing opposing directions. The line was extended one stop to Bowdoin to allow for a turnaround loop.

    What did close in 1952 was the opening at the end of the Bowdoin tail tracks, which go about halfway down Cambridge Street toward Charles St. Station. The Blue Line had no yard then, so the cars (by this time, high-platform cars, not trolley) were taken out of the Blue Line tunnel through this opening and inched down Cambridge Street, over the Longfellow Bridge, and through the gate with the “roller skate” wheels on the bridge just before Kendall Red Line portal. In this way they could make it to the Red Line yard where the Harvard Kennedy School is now.

    In 1952 the line was extended out to the beach and Wonderland, with plenty of room for its very own yard, so no more need for the above machinations, and the Bowdoin portal was closed.

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