by Kezia Bacon, Correspondent
Do you know about the Hanover Branch Railroad? It extended 7.8 miles from Hanover Four Corners, through South and West Hanover, across Rockland, to North Abington, where it connected with the Old Colony Railroad to Plymouth. Incorporated in 1846, and constructed over the better part of the next 20 years, it officially opened for service in 1868.
E. Y. Perry, who operated a large tack factory in South Hanover, was largely responsible for the creation of the railway. He also owned a general store (now Myette’s) and constructed the building in South Hanover that for many years housed a series of a shoe factories – Goodrich, Cochran, and Shanley — and later the Clapp Rubber Company. The railway facilitated the transport of materials and finished products to and from these and other businesses, but also offered passenger serive. Amusingly, in its latter years, when the businesses along its route had shut down, it continued to carried passengers, … but only by self-propelled cars!
The Old Colony Railroad absorbed the Hanover Branch in 1887. In 1893, the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad took over the lease. These days, many of Massachusetts’ former railroad beds are overseen by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
From Luddams Ford Park in Hanover, along the Indian Head River to the Hanson line, much of the former Hanover Branch railroad bed has been converted into a very pleasant 1-mile walking trail. Another section, which begins on the Hanover-Rockland line and extends through Rockland to the current MBTA Commuter Rail at North Abington, more recently was transformed into a mostly-paved, mostly-flat, 10-foot wide, 3-mile long walking and biking trail.
This is exciting news for the South Shore! Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts DCR, the recent paving of the Rockland portion makes the trail significantly more accessible to the general public. Now, not only hikers and mountain bikers can use it, but also people who rely on walkers, wheelchairs, and baby strollers.
There are numerous access points to the Rockland Rail Trail. From the eastern side, you can park in the cul de sac at the very end of Circuit Street in West Hanover, near the Colby-Phillips Conservation Area, and follow a short path through the woods to the railroad bed. It’s important to know, however, that this is by far the most rustic portion of the trail. The ties and rails are still intact! So for anyone traveling with wheels, this isn’t a good option.
Eventually the vestiges of the former railroad give way to a gravel path, which continues through the woods to the Rockland Police Station. This is where you’ll encounter first of several road crossings, each marked with a yellow metal gate that permits individuals to pass, but not cars. It is also where the paved trail begins.
The trail is very easy to follow. Each time it crosses a road, a crosswalk and signage give trail users the right of way. Still, it’s important to proceed with caution through all intersections. Some of them are relatively quiet, but others involve major roadways such as Routes 139 and 123.
Heading west, the trail continues through residential areas and eventually passes by Rockland’s Senior Center, golf course, and high school. On the day I visited, I just happened to arrive at the Abington line, the trail’s western terminus, as a MBTA Commuter train was passing by. How fun to hear a train whistle on a historic rail trail!
Some other features worth noting are the “A” and “W” markers along the trail east of Union Street. In the days of the old railroad, the “A” indicated “approach,” which meant that the conductor should be prepared to stop. The “W” was for “whistle stop,” a reminder to sound the whistle while nearing a road crossing.
It took about an hour for my 12-year-old son and I to ride our mountain bikes along the full extent of the trail – from Hanover to Abington and back. This included numerous pauses — for photos, water breaks, road crossings, and to read the information in the historic kiosk at Union and East Water Streets. Plus we mostly walked our bikes over the “rustic” section, when it proved to be far too bumpy to ride.
If you go, keep the well-posted Trail Rules in mind. The trails are open from dawn to dusk. Cyclists must yield to pedestrians. Dogs must be kept on a short leash at all times. Clean up after your pets. Horses and motorized vehicles are prohibited, as are fires, alcohol and smoking.
Kezia Bacon’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to protecting our waters. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit www.nsrwa.org. To browse 22+ years of nature columns, visit http://keziabaconbernstein.blogspot.com