Wellesley Square Train Station – History Mystery, December 2015

December 15, 2015 – Question

Does this railroad station look familiar? Wellesley was fortunate enough to have several stops on the Boston & Worcester line (later renamed the Boston & Albany line) which now serves as the MBTA commuter rail. Can you guess if this historical image is of the Wellesley Farms, Wellesley Hills, or Wellesley Square stop? Bonus points if you can explain why the Christmas greetings are written on the front of the postcard instead of the back! Return on Dec. 30 for the answer.

December 30, 2015 – Answer

The railroad station depicted above is the former Wellesley Square train station which was taken down in 1962 and replaced with a post office (see image below). Built in 1889, the structure looks similar to two former mainline train stations in town because they were all designed in the Romanesque Revival style by architect H.H. Richardson or his successors, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge.

The Boston and Albany Railroad (B&A) decided to standardize and beautify the train stations along this line between 1881-1894 and over thirty new stations were built. To design the buildings and landscape the surrounding area, the B&A commissioned two nationally-known local professionals, architect H.H. Richardson and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.  H.H. Richardson was directly involved with the Wellesley Hills station before his death in 1886, but the Wellesley Square and Wellesley Farms stations were completed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, the successors of Richardson’s architectural firm. Although unoccupied, the Farms station still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places while the Wellesley Hills station has been altered and repurposed as a commercial building.  A fourth station, the Newton Lower Falls stop located in Wellesley, was also completed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge; this structure was on a branch line of the B&A and was demolished in the 1940s.

Wondering why the postcard pictured above has a message on the front along with an image of the Wellesley Square train station? This postcard was printed c.1905 and cards produced before 1907 were not allowed to have messages on the back of the card; only the address and postage was permitted. To personalize the card and add a greeting, people often wrote brief messages on the front of the postcard.  The Universal Postal Congress, followed by the U.S. Congress, approved “divided back” postcards for use in 1907; the cards had a separate area marked for correspondence on the back, divided from the area designated for the address.  The front could feature illustrations or photographs. The ability to send a card with an image and ample room for correspondence greatly increased the popularity of postcards and ushered in an era known as the “Golden Age of Post Cards.”

Kathleen Fahey, Curator

The Wellesley Square train station was taken down in 1962 to make way for a new post office which was opened in 1964.