By O. R. Cummings

Although the Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway discontinued trolley service in 1930, four of its former carhouses, at Amesbury, at Newburyport, at Merrimac and at Salem, N.H., still stand and are in active use. Among them, the Newburyport carhouse, built in 1904, is occupied by Geonautics Inc., a producer of thermal and ballastic structures, while the Merrimac barn, of 1916, houses the town’s police and fire stations and highway department vehicles.

The oldest of the four, the Amesbury carhouse was erected in 1899 by a Northeastern predecessor, the Amesbury & Hampton Street Railway, on the north side of Clinton Street on a site purchased from Elbridge S. Feitch and others in April and May of that year. As initially constructed, it was 48 feet wide, 140 feet deed and 19 ft. 6 in. high and had brick walls, wooden doors, an open finish joist roof and dirt and wood floors. There were four tracks, three of which had inspection pits at the rear and on the west side was a one-story brick eli, 13 feet wide and 58 feet deep, containing offices, a storage area and a heating plant. Fire protection was provided by an automatic sprinkler system, water for the sprinklers and for general carhouse purposes originally being drawn from a deep well and stored in a 10,000 gal.. tank atop a steel tower. Later, after municipal water service was extended to Clinton Street and the carhouse, the well was abandoned and the storage tank and tower were removed.

As best can be determined, the carhouse was opened on or about July 4, 1899 when the Arnesbury & Hampton commenced regular operation over its original 4.33 miles of main track. This began at the south end of Market Street, at Market Square, and extended northerly on Market Street to Clinton Street and easterly on Clinton to Congress Street; on Congress Street to and across the Amesbury-Salisbury boundary at Frost’s Corner to Main Street, Salisbury Plains, and northeasterly along Main Street to the New Hampshire state line and a connection with a short branch of the Exeter, Hampton & A mesbury Street Railway from Smithtown Square, Seabrook. The A&H was operated under contract by the EH&A until July 1, 1900 when it was leased to the latter for 25 years. This lease was terminated as of Nov. 1, 1905 after the EH&A was placed in receivership on May 14, 1906.

Interestingly, all of the original passenger equipment of the Amesbury & Hampton was built in Amesbury by the Briggs Carriage Company and consisted of three 10-bench open cars, Nos. 19, 21 and S 23; six 14-bench opens, Nos. 25 odd through 35, and two 20-foot closed cars, Nos. 14-16. These reportedly were trucked from the Briggs plant at Cedar and Poplar Streets to a temporary siding off Market Street, from which, after being mounted on trucks, they were towed to the Exeter, Hampton & Amesbury’s carhouse in Hampton to be equipped with motors and controllers and otherwise made ready for operation.

No major changes to the carhouse proper ever were made but during late 1901 a brick substation, 31 by 34 ft. in ground area and 18 ft. high, was erected on the east side of the building. Placed in commission on March 12, 1902, it was equipped with six General Electric 110 kw 13,200/370-volt air-cooled step-down transformers; one General Electric 300 kw rotary converter; one General Electric 250 kw rotary converter, both alternating current and direct current switchboards and necessary auxiliary apparatus. At this station 13,200-volt 25-cycle alternating current transmitted over high tension lines first from Hampton and later from Portsmouth was changed to 600 volts direct current to energize the trolley wires of the Amesbury & Hampton and connecting lines.

The Amesbury & Hampton was consolidated April 1, 1913 with the Massachusetts Northeastern and became part of the latter’s Amesbury Division, the main line of which extended from Haverhill to Amesbury via Plaistow, Newton and a tip of South Hampton, N.H.; continued from Amesbury through Salisbury Plains to Smithtown Square and from the latter point to South Seabrook, Seabrook Beach and Hampton Beach.. From 1913 through 1917 summer schedules called for hourly service between Haverhill and Hampton Beach, 25.6 miles, on weekdays and a 30-minute headway on Saturdays and Sundays. In other seasons, cars were run hourly between Haverhill and Smithtown Square, 19.6 miles. Cars assigned to the division were based at the Amesbury carhouse and at another in Plaistow and in the summer most Haverhill-Hampton Beach through trips were made by 14-bench double truck open cars with a seating capacity of 70. Because of declining traffic, half-hourly service was maintained only on Saturday afternoon and evening and all day Sunday during the summer of 1918 and on October 14 of that year, due to a system-wide power shortage, Haverhill-Smithtown service was changed from hourly to two-hourly. Haverhill-Hampton Beach through trips never were resumed and on May 1, 1920 the trackage between Smithtown Square and Seabrook Beach via South Seabrook, 3.385 miles, was abandoned. Amesbury Division schedules during the summer of 1920 called for a two-hour headway between Haverhill and Smithtown except on Saturday afternoons and Sundays when hourly service was maintained. By Jan. 1, 1920, incidentally, only five passenger cars, a work car and a double truck snow plow, were assigned to the Amesbury carhouse. The passenger cars were Nos. 53, 57 and 75, all 14-bench opens in storage for the winter, and Nos. 106 and 116, both single truck (four-wheel) closed cars with 20-foot bodies, which were operated in occasional local service between Amesbury and Smithtown Square.

Trolley service from Rowe’s Corner, Newton, through Amesbury to Smithtown Square, 10.28 miles, ended Dec. 17, 1923, and at about the same time the Amesbury carhouse was closed as an operating center although the substation remained active to serve the Newburyport-Amesbury trolley line; the route from Haverhill to Hampton Beach via Merrimac, Amesbury, Salisbury Square, Salisbury Beach and Seabrook Beach,. and the Amesbury Industrial Railway, a freight car switching operation within the town. The rails and trolley wires between the Amesbury carhouse and Smithtown were removed in 1924 but those on Market and Clinton Streets remained in place and as of July 31, 1925 fifteen inactive passenger cars in poor condition and five work cars were in dead storage inside the carhouse or on the outside yard tracks. The passenger cars were identified as single truck closed cars 10, 108, 116 and 118; double truck closed cars 20, 36, 122, 124 and 128, and double truck opens 61, 75, 85, 119, 181 and 187. All were moved to other locations prior to May 1926 when an insurance report noted that all of the tracks in the carhouse had been removed and that the building was vacant.

Placed in receivership Jan. 9, 1930, the Massachusetts Northeastern almost immediately sought authority to substitute buses for trolley cars on its remaining routes. Permission was granted by appropriate state and municipal bodies and the last streetcar trips between Newburyport and Amesbury and within Newburyport were made on Aug. 26, 1930. Trolley service between Haverhill and Plaistow ended on September 2 and five days later the lines from Haverhill to Hampton Beach via Amesbury and Salisbury Beach and from Salisbury Square to Newburyport were motorized. Regular operation of the Amesbury substation ended the same day although it was occasionally activated for a short period thereafter to provide power for the industrial railway and for work cars being used in railway dismantling operations.