Chapter 30


When the energetic William Pynchon blazed the Bay Path in the days when young Sir Harry Vane sat in the governor’s chair, he laid the trail for travel to the West which for more than two hundred and fifty years has been a main artery in the direct route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. From garrison to blockhouse, from village to village, from town to town, from city to city, the highway ran the length of the commonwealth, linking the settlements in their growth from blockhouse to city, from colonial days to modern times.

Thus Boston was linked to Albany, the ocean to the Hudson, and the trade to and from the interior passed over the main highway, crossing the rivers in clumsy horse boats, climbing the Berkshire by toilsome ascents, until at last men thought to improve upon this slow and tedious travel by some more direct and labor-saving. method.

The first step toward improvement came from a college boy out amid the Berkshires. In the year i8o6, when Napoleon was master of Europe and Aaron Burr was seeking to disrupt America, a young senior in Williams College came upon an account of the way coal was transported in the English coal regions by what




were called tram ways, or crude wooden railways. This college boy was Abner Phelps of Boston; and the coaling tramways suggested to him the idea of some such method of communication between Massachusetts Bay and the Hudson River, along the old Bay Path.

The plan attracted him strongly, and in i8o8 he wrote to his brother, who was in the Massachusetts legislature, asking if he could not propose in the legislature a tramway from Boston to Albany.

"Make it a great State road," wrote young Abner Phelps to his brother. "The counties make roads; why not let the State make one? . . . The people had better talk on such a subject than to be always discussing politics to no profit. . . . Were I in the legislature, I should not hesitate, but would move it as the first subject of attention."

The brother of this energetic and far-seeing young man did hesitate, and the suggestion was not taken up. The idea, however, lay in young Phelps’s mind, and years after, in 1826, when he himself had become "a rising man," and was sent to the legislature, the very first thing he did was to present a proposition for a railway from Boston to the Hudson River near Albany.

The legislature of Massachusetts had already discussed the project of building a canal from Boston to the Connecticut River, and another one from the Connecticut to the Hudson, so as to unite with the great Erie Canal, which had just been opened across the Empire State from the Hudson to the Great Lakes. Two routes had even been, surveyed, and one might have been decided upon, skirting the valleys of the Deerfield



and Hoosac rivers, were it not that right in the path rose one great and insurmountable obstacle,—the high and: picturesque barrier of Hoosac Mountain in Berkshire County.

Suddenly railroads actually came into existence,— something quite different from the crude tramways of the English coal country, —and at once the canal project gave place to the railway project of Dr. Abner Phelps, "a railroad man before the days of railroads," as he has been called.

His proposition in the legislature was acted upon at once, and a commission was appointed to survey a route from Boston to Albany. Three were proposed, one of them the same as the canal route which was blocked by Hoosac Mountain. Another was selected, however, and the old Bay Path became the Boston and Albany Railroad,—not entirely completed, however, until 1842. Thirty-six years had that college boy to wait before his dream came true.

The State was growing fast by this time, however, and the people of northern Massachusetts wished a road across the State that should be of value to their section of the commonwealth. The old canal route that skirted the Deerfield and Hoosac valleys was again thought of. But there still stood Hoosac Mountain.

"How can one carry a railroad over Hoosac Mountain?" the people asked; and some enthusiast boldly replied, "Tunnel it."

It seemed a foolish answer. It was in those days to most people clearly an impossibility to bore through a great hill, two thousand feet high and five miles thick



at the base, formed of tough slate rock, and full of unknown obstacles.

But some brave and determined minds thought differently. Interest in the great project was slowly awakened, and after six years of waiting and arguing, a survey was made for a tunnel in 1850, and on January I, 1851, it was decided to begin work.

From the very beginning of the actual work, however, things seemed to ~go wrong. The legislature refused to give State aid by a loan of money, and capitalists who had money to invest did not believe in the scheme enough to lend the funds. A little was raised, however, and a tunneling machine built, which broke down hopelessly before ten feet of the mountain had been cut out. Then things dragged and delayed until 1854, when the legislature voted money for the enterprise, and work was once more begun.

Again troubles came,—with machinery, with money, and with men. Contractors failed, machinery proved useless, money gave out, and finally the company formed to build the tunnel had to give up, and the whole affair came into the hands of the commonwealth.

The year 1862 came along, and not a fifth part of the proposed tunnel had been cut out; for the boring machines had all proved failures, the ventilation was bad, and blasting was very dangerous.

Just then a clever inventor of Fitchburg, Charles Burleigh by name, invented a new kind of drill, to be driven by steam or compressed air, and known as the percussion drill. This drill could make three hundred strokes a minute.



This compressed-air rock drill came just at the right time; for, staggered by the slowness and vastness of the work before them, and the increasing item of expense, the engineer, as a last resort, had decided to sink a central shaft, and, when this was sunk, to work each way and bore out to daylight. But to sink this shaft would alone take four years of hard work, and cost over half a million dollars.

So Mr. Burleigh’s invention of the rock drill worked by compressed air came just in time, for already this central shaft had been begun. From i856 to i866 all the rock-drilling-—and there was a tremendous amount of rock to bore through in Hoosac Mountain—had been done by hand; but after i866, thanks to the rock drill, and the great benefits it gave in power and fresh air, the work went forward rapidly, and, as one authority assures us, "the building of great tunnels rose to the dignity of a science."

The central shaft was sunk, the Deerfield River was dammed and water power secured to work the east-side drills, while on the west side and at the central shaft steam engines worked the drills and supplied the air for the western section.

But although the new rock drill helped things wonderfully, it could not do away with all the difficulties. Crumbling rock and oozing water so impeded the work that, in one working year, over three hundred thousand tons of water had to be pumped out of the central shaft, and nearly fourteen thousand tons of rock lifted from it in buckets. Terrible accidents occurred to the workmen by explosions and fire, and many wonderful escapes



are recorded. Nearly two hundred lives were lost while the tunnel was building, and the workmen, sometimes a thousand in number, lived year after year in the midst of the terrible risks from explosives.

Of these, the powerful nitroglycerin, which was discovered before the tunnel was finished, was a great aid toward speedier completion, for nitroglycerin is thirteen times more powerful than blasting powder.

Perhaps you think it needs only patience and plenty of drilling and digging to bore a tunnel through a mountain. But these are the simplest things. Think of the figuring and planning needed to strike just the right measurements so that the tunnel shall run straight and came out at the right place! That central shaft had to be dug down, true and plumb, for over a thousand feet into pitch darkness; then, still in that horrible darkness, the engineers had to strike out right and left so as to meet the men who were boring toward the central shaft from east and west. Now read this triumph of brain as displayed in this great piece of tunneling. When the men from the central shaft had tunneled eastward sixteen hundred feet, they met the men working in from the eastern entrance, eleven thousand feet from the opening; and they met exactly, so that the final blast which threw down the last wall of intervening rock brought the workmen from the east and west face to face in the heart of that lofty mountain. Before the work was done the length of the tunnel had been estimated by the engineers from the measurements they made in climbing over the mountain and marking it off with a tapeline; and when the



tunnel was finished, so accurate was this estimate that the actual length of the tunnel was found to come within a foot of the estimate. Such accuracy was simply marvelous. But these are the things that are taught American boys to-day in such scientific schools of the Bay State as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the schools of mines connected with the Massachusetts colleges, and the Free Institute of Industrial Science at Worcester. A boy with brains can today learn to do almost anything in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The final explosion that threw over the last remaining wall of rock between the eastern and western workers was made on the 27th of November,1873. On the 9th of February, 1875, the first cars passed through, roofs and arches and roadbed being completed. Twenty-two freight cars loaded with grain from the West were run through on the 5th of April, 1875; passenger trains between Boston and Troy soon followed; and on the 1st of July, 1876, in the jubilee month of the nation’s centennial year, one of the greatest feats of engineering skill the world had ever known was formally proclaimed as completed, and the Hoosac Tunnel, after twenty-two years of difficulties, delays, obstacles, and defeats, persistence, endeavor, and triumph, was declared finished.

The Hoosac Tunnel was the first of the great mountain tunnels of the world. It was built for the public accommodation and for peaceful purposes,—not, like the great tunnels of Europe, with any thought of political or military significance. It is four and three quarter miles long; it is twenty-six feet wide and twenty-six feet high ; it is perfectly ventilated by three great shafts, the



central one of which is twenty-seven feet wide, and runs up ten hundred and twenty-eight feet, opening out at the very summit of the mountain. The tunnel is lighted by twelve hundred and fifty electric lights, and is built in the most thorough and substantial manner. It should be, for it cost over twenty millions of dollars.

That sum might have been expended in widening and improving the great trunk line to which this tunnel route is rival and competitor; but the Hoosac Tunnel route has been of incalculable service to the people of Massachusetts, New England, and the United States, as the great freight- and passenger-carrying artery between the East and the West. It is a monument to patience, persistence, perseverance, skill, and figuring,—what we call a tangible triumph of mind over matter.



The forerunner of all the great railroads that gridiron the United States of America was the crude and clumsy tramway built in 1826 between the granite quarries at Quincy in Massachusetts and tide water at Neponset, three miles away. The first of all the great tunnels that made possible the extension of American railroads in spite of mountain barriers was the Hoosac Tunnel. And out of those two triumphs of Yankee pluck and Massachusetts persistence the republic can boast its millions of miles of railroad and billions of dollars of railroad capital.

How many other triumphs of ingenuity, persistence, skill, and financiering have made the men of Massachusetts famous, and contributed to the progress, the strength, and the glory of the republic? Let us see.

The story of Bay State enterprise would far exceed the limits of this book; but even though it look like a catalogue or a directory, let me give you a partial table of " first things " which originated in Massachusetts, that you may know how much the men of the commonwealth have contributed toward the world’s convenience, comfort, and progress.

Everybody knows that Samuel F. B. Morse of Charles-town invented the electric telegraph and brought the nations of the world into touch with each other. So, as I shall tell you in the next chapter, Alexander Graham Bell of Boston invented the telephone and set all the world a-talking; and it was Eli Whitney of Westborough who invented the cotton gin, and, as Macaulay asserted, did as much for the power and progress of the United States as Peter the Great did for Russia. We



know that it was Benjamin Franklin, a Boston boy, who discovered electricity in the clouds, and Benjamin Thompson, a Woburn boy, who, as Count Rumford, almost revolutionized the knowledge of the world as to the powers of light and heat.

These are the great names known to all the world, and to the great glory of Massachusetts. But others, less known, have proved of equal worth and value to the world.

Paul Revere of Boston, who made the famous ride, started the first mill for making sheet copper; Jacob Perkins of Newburyport patented the first nail machine and made the first steel-plate engraving; Abel Stowell of Worcester first cut screws by machinery; Isaac Babbitt of Taunton invented Babbitt metal and Britannia ware; James Conant of Marblehead first made sewing silk by machinery; Joseph Dixon of Salem made the first American lead pencils; Alonzo D. Phillips of Springfield made the first friction matches; ‘William F. Harnden of Boston started the first express company; John Ames of Springfield made the first machine for making, cutting, and ruling paper; William G. T. Morton of Boston discovered the wonderful pain-killing properties of ether; Charles G. Page of Salem made the first suggestion of the telephone; Seth Adams of Dorchester started the first breeding of merino sheep for the fine wool industry of America; James Campbell of Boston published the first American newspaper; Isaac Stoughton of Dorchester built the first water mill for grinding corn in New England; David Melville of Watertown first lighted factories with gas;



Stephen Daye of Cambridge was the first book publisher in America; John Schofield of Newburyport made the first carding machine for woolen manufacture; Charles Mitchell of Boston started the food-canning industry; Theodore Pearson of Newburyport was the first cracker baker; Frederic Tudor of Boston started the American ice business; Edward Chaffee of Roxbury was the first india rubber manufacturer; John Harmon of Boston was the first rope-maker in America; the first clocks were made by Simon Willard of Roxbury, the first American watches by Aaron L. Dennison and Edward Howard of Roxbury; Thomas Beard of the Plymouth colony was the first American shoemaker, and William F. Trowbridge of Feltonville first made shoes by steam-power machinery.

This does not complete the list, but it is sufficient to indicate what part Massachusetts has borne in the industrial progress of the nation.

There was a time when Massachusetts, like Britannia, "ruled the wave," so far as the number of her ships and the wealth of her seaports were concerned. From 1840 to r86o Massachusetts ships controlled the commerce-bearing trade of the world. But gradually the conditions changed; navigation gave place to manufacture, and Massachusetts, which had developed the resources of the sea, turned her attention to railroads and manufacturing, and developed the resources of the land.

After the Revolution, and when the new nation was forming, the commonwealth, relinquishing its claims to the vast sections of western land which, under its charter from the King of England, were its ceded pos



sessions, enabled the government to throw open those lands for settlement. The Sons of Massachusetts, seeing more of agricultural promise in those fertile western lands, left the old home for the new, and thus Massachusetts by giving up its own became really the mother of new States. To the development of those splendid western commonwealths, as you have read in the story of Rufus Putnam and the second Mayflower, Massachusetts contributed in land in men, in methods, in money, and in means of communication; following the Bay Path of William Pynchon’s day, and the later trail of the northern counties, she even pushed her iron highway straight through the very heart of that Berkshire mountain, and thus linked the commerce and manufactures of the East to the vast resources of the West.