Vintage Views: Concord’s Main Street has served as a gathering spot for years

My Great Uncle Stephen Spain is pictured operating his horse drawn trolley from Fosterville to West Concord in the year 1884.

My Great Uncle Stephen Spain is pictured operating his horse drawn trolley from Fosterville to West Concord in the year 1884. James W. Spain Collection

Published: 02-24-2024 3:00 PM

As our ancestors gathered down on Main Street just over 130 years ago there was much conversation about the current events of the day. The people of Concord felt they were living on the cutting edge of technology as they sat, dined and observed the long-cobbled street at the center of Concord commerce. There were shops and luxuries that were affordable and not a concern when searching for a meal or shelter. The good life had arrived and change was certainly being embraced.

Just east of Main Street at Railroad Square there was an average of 100 freight and passenger trains stopping at the Concord Depot each day, trains that brought goods for the shops and trains that brought people to shop and enjoy the peace and tranquility of our little town. The railroad employed over 1300 people to keep transportation at a premium. In addition to the railroad there was a street trolley that ran over about 80 miles of track in Concord, bringing passengers from the south end of town all the way to Penacook with many stops in between. The street trolley was initially pulled by horses during the latter part of the nineteenth century and converted over to electricity around the year 1893.

If not for a local gentleman named Moses Humphrey the street trolley would not have occurred in Concord or been managed in a very efficient manner. Humphrey was the gentleman that embarked on a mission to introduce the street car system to Concord when he was 73 years old, eventually becoming the agent overseeing the construction and then becoming the Superintendent of Street Car Services as the years passed. Humphrey faced opposition and a lack of support in his quest to provide this wonderful means of transportation to Concord, seeing the line completed to Fosterville and West Concord. The first bob-tail car was manufactured locally at the Abbot Downing Shops and completed a maiden voyage on April 21, 1881.

As the years passed and the street railroad continued to operate there were modern methods of transportation arriving in Concord. The first horseless carriage traveled the early cobbled streets of Concord followed a few years later by the Ford automobile. The local residents of Concord, ever supporting the electric trolley, felt the Ford automobiles should not be allowed to travel the streets alongside the trolley, the thought was to have a series of roads outside of town that would be built and dedicated to this new method of traveling by automobile.

Soon, our ancestors realized the automobile had indeed come to stay and would remain a part of their everyday lives, even though the thoughts of it being impractical and expensive still remained. Another early means of transportation often discussed in Concord by our ancestors was the hot air balloon. Some referred to the balloon as nothing more than a flying automobile, with thoughts that it might also come to stay. There was much discussion about traveling great distances by balloon, even across the ocean to Europe. Proponents of the balloon transportation model spoke of the efficient, low cost and safe method of travel often. It was said that a balloon at an elevation of three miles would bring you to a height where the wind speed would propel you at 50 miles per hour. This would mean that you could cross from the United States to Europe in as little as sixty hours. Our ancestors anticipated the ordering of a family hot air balloon being as easy to order as a family horse drawn carriage.

As each year passed the residents of Concord sadly witnessed the closure of the electric trolley. The cobbled streets lined with rails were eventually covered with asphalt, masking a piece of history that was dearly missed. The balloon craze did not materialize for the average person in search of transportation, people continued to use steam ships to cross back and forth to Europe routinely until the advent of the passenger airline. Some people were reluctant to change and did not purchase an automobile or a Penny-Farth bicycle for travel, they simply walked about town or kept the beloved family horse and carriage.

Change can certainly be good, but I know there still is much nostalgia surrounding the old ways here in Concord. The cobbled streets, the trolley and the old horse and carriages.

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