In the 1870s a new railroad was chartered. The Mass Central Railroad. Unfortunately, it was under capitalized and failed before it was finished. A bankruptcy court renamed it the Central Mass Railroad and with an infusion of fresh cash, it was finished. Unfortunately, again, it didn’t flourish and it ended up becoming a backwater branchline of the Boston & Maine Railroad. In the 1990s, as it was slowly being built out as a trail in the sections where there was interest in redeveloping it as a trail, the grand name, the original name, Mass Central came back. Not as a RR, but as a trail. This map was the first system map of the line in 1888, when hopes were high.
During WWI, the Federal Government was alarmed because the all important war traffic wasn’t flowing across the country from the manufacturing facilities to the ports. Gridlock was the watch-word. Now to be fair, the gridlock was partially because of the overwhelming amount of traffic.
But it was also because some railroads were not interchanging with some of their competitors in a timely manner. The Federal Government stepped-in and nationalized the railroads. They took-over the railroads to run them correctly. And since they were in charge of everything owned by the railroads, decided to inventory everything the railroads owned.
Every locomotive, every rail car, station, depot, water tower, every nut, every bolt and all the land they owned. The land inventory maps were called, “Valuation Maps” or Val Maps. These were blueprint maps showing the land the railroads owned. Where they went over water, where spur tracks and sidings were, where industrial complexes were. These are valuable for a host of reasons even today.
In the case of brownfield remediation today, yes, these maps show the location of old, long-gone industrial complexes that are a likely reason why the grass doesn’t grow in this spot near that dead RR corridor. But these maps also illustrate in a special and exacting detail, how the railroad acquired the land.
In the corner of these val maps, you will see very ornate old text and in some areas, victorian cursive handwriting, a layout of how each parcel was acquired by the railroad. It has the date, the seller, the buyer, and what kind of deed instrument was used to acquire that specific parcel of land.
This little box of land transaction deals, so neatly laid out, the chain of title. If you are a map geek, like me you’ll love this link. We have a complete set of every val map on this corridor.