Worcestory Lesson: All aboard! The heydey of Worcester trolley service

“As home to trolley manufacturer Osgood Bradley and later Pullman Standard, Worcester played an important role in the history of passenger rail travel in the United States. And over the years, trolleys and trains have captured the imagination of millions.” Indeed, hop on and take a fascinating journey with Worcester history expert David DuBois.

Worcestory Lesson: Royal Pioneer and the city’s place in motorcycle history

If not for a factory fire, it is possible that instead of Hondas or Harley-Davidsons today we might all be riding motorcycles made by Royal Motor Works right here in Worcester. Introduced in 1909, the Pioneer was, according to Bonhams, “one of the finest motorcycles produced in this country.”

1910 Royal Pioneer

Courtesy Bonhams

1910 Royal Pioneer

While there are some serious folks who ride year-round, March brings back motorcycle season for the rest of us. It is the beginning of outdoor swap meets, long rides and late nights in the garage. This tradition stretches back to the very beginnings of motorcycle culture here in Worcester.

Worcestory Lesson: Green Book, Hotel Worcester welcomed blacks visiting city in the ’40s

The outsiders’ perspective of guide books and first-person travel accounts make them very attractive sources to historians.

Their writers have the same desire to experience a place, and oftentimes ask the same questions as we do looking back today. In particular, there’s been a renewed interest in studying the role of travel as part of the 20th-century African-American experience. While Worcester was not a major travel destination, there were many people moving through the city by both car and rail.

There were no guarantees for travelers of color in the 1940s.

Prior to passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 local laws or regulations could segregate service. Even in areas without legally defined segregation — as in much of the northern United States — local practice and racial bias could be used as reasons to deny accommodation.

Cover of the 1947 edition of the Negro Motorist Green Book. “Carry your Green Book with you…you may need it…”

Courtesy New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Cover of the 1947 edition of the Negro Motorist Green Book. “Carry your Green Book with you…you may need it…”

Imagine arriving in an unfamiliar city not knowing if the restaurant around the corner would serve you, or if the gas station would fill your car. This could make travel extremely stressful, difficult or even dangerous.

Worcestory Lesson: A ‘diabolical outrage’ in 1850

Just after midnight on May 3, 1850, a bomb exploded at Mayor Henry Chapin’s office on Main and Sudbury streets. The explosion destroyed the contents of his office and severely damaged other businesses in the building.

Three nights later, a second bomb was set off at the home of Constable Charles Warren. While the explosion at the mayor’s office caused significant property damage, the one at Warren’s could have incurred a deadlier result. Warren later testified that his family was home and asleep at the time of the explosion, and fragments of the shell tore through his house.

Worcester’s second mayor, Henry Chapin (first one bombed).

Courtesy Worcester Historical Museum

Worcester’s second mayor, Henry Chapin (first one bombed).

These two almost forgotten events in Worcester’s history drew in the politics of two of the 19th century’s most fiercely debated issues, temperance and slavery.

The explosions foreshadowed the violence that would one day accompany the national prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933.

Worcester Gas and Light Company

Worcestory Lesson: Worcester Gas Light Co., impact and legacy

Cyanide. Arsenic. Asbestos. Coal tar.

All very nasty substances discovered in the ground at the future Worcester Regional Transit Authority maintenance garage on Quinsigamond Avenue. The land was the site of a former manufactured gas plant built in the 19th century in Worcester’s big wave of expansion.

Worcester Gas and Light Company

Courtesy Worcester Historical Museum

The former Worcester Gas and Light Company

While today we burn natural gas for cooking and heating, in the 1800s coal was liquefied to produce a flammable gas. It was then piped underground to businesses and homes to provide an alternative to burning coal or wood, two fuels that were dirty and labor intensive to use.

The gas was also used for lighting and for street lamps throughout the city, replacing older oil-burning lamps that required refilling and maintenance. As anyone who has opened up the walls of an older house knows, gas was installed before electricity.