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Martha's Vineyard Railroad

Memories from a summer kid aboard the train to Martha's Vineyard.

Martha’s Vineyard has an airport and it certainly has its share of cars, but did you know there once was a railroad on the Vineyard? In the the book:  The History of Martha’s Vineyard by Arthur R. Railton, you’ll find that, indeed, there was one: the Martha's Vineyard Railroad.

It was built in 1874 and ran along the beach from Oak Bluffs to Katama.  Storms often washed the tracks out and expensive repairs were needed. It had its share of problems and, eventually, in 1900 the bankrupt railroad stopped running.

There was actually another railroad that’s sort of connected to MV: the old  New York/New Haven/Hartford railroad.  Its Old Colony line used to go all the way to Woods Hole. 

When my mother and I would come to the Vineyard for the entire summer in the '40s and '50s,  we would take a train from Pennsylvania Station in Newark, NJ to Grand Central Station in NYC, where we would change trains.

We would have to run from one end of the station to the other to board the New York/New Haven & Hartford’s train on the Old Colony line, called the Day Cape Codder.

The train stopped at what is now the staging area for cars waiting to get onto the ferries. The tracks ran under the overpass and it was literally only steps from train to boat.  A comfortable and luxurious way to travel in the days when lots of people didn’t have cars and the road system left a lot to be desired anyway.  The trains had dining cars with each table dressed in fancy tablecloths, crisply ironed napkins and finger bowls, which really impressed me.  The waiters and conductors were always the same and remembered me from year to year— it made me feel special and grown up. Train service to Woods Hole ended in the 1960s and the adventure of driving I-95 began.

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Tom Hodgson June 07, 2011 at 10:55 AM
The Cape Codder. I rode that train when I was a kid. Stainless steel on the outside, red velvet seats on the inside. In the late 19th century you could make an on-land day trip from the Vineyard to Boston about as quickly as today.
Maureen Leland June 07, 2011 at 12:34 PM
Train service would still make so much sense today... It must have been a very pleasant and less-stressful ride, with no traffic issues. If only it would come back (and allow dogs!)
Jason Peringer June 10, 2011 at 08:20 PM
I know of a house that has one of the cars as part of their house... the "Martha's Vineyard Railroad" stencil is exposed through the shingles... :)
Joan B June 11, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Jason - I would love to see that, how neat to have a railroad car as part of your house. Wonder if it's the dining car turned into a kitchen...lol. Tom - those red velvet seats were a little itchy...the conductor would bring me a pillow to sit on... I felt like a princess. The best part about the train ride was lunch in the dining car...my mother and I would have fried scallops and that little ritual would be our official start of summer on the Vineyard. Maureen - it would be nice to have train service again, might cut down on some of the cars coming to the Vineyard during the summer. And yes, they'd have to allow dogs .

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