Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) Photograph Collection

In July 1891, owing to dense streetcar traffic, a result of increasing populations and the industrial strides of the late nineteenth century, a Rapid Transit Commission was created to resolve the transportation dilemma of Boston and its neighboring communities.


Proposed Location, Underground Structures for Main St., 19 May 1909

The commission researched traffic conditions in the city’s densest areas, namely Tremont Street, and presented a report recommending construction of an elevated railway system and a tunnel for streetcars to alleviate congested conditions in Boston and surrounding areas. Citing this report, the Massachusetts Legislature approved the Boston Elevated Railway Company (BERy) for incorporation on July 2, 1892.[1]


Brattle Square Progress on Excavation, 15 November 1909

The Cambridge Historical Commission holds approximately 1,200 glass negatives taken by the Boston Elevated Railway between 1907 and 1912. These images primarily document the construction of the Cambridge Subway in 1909-1912.


South Side of Mass. Ave. from Brookline to Pearl Street, 17 February 1909

The Commission also holds a collection of about 200 cyanotypes donated by Frank Cheney. These prints were made from negatives that are not held in the CHC collections. Many of the cyanotypes in the collection depict the construction of the Charles River dam and viaduct.


Charles River dam, lower side looking toward Cambridge, 31 July 1907


Charles River Bridge, Foundation #4, 1 December 1907

Others document the construction of the underground tunnel on Brattle Street.


Brattle Street, 20 June 1910

General William A. Bancroft was president of the Boston Elevated Railway from 1899 to 1916 and proved a great influence in expanding the lines in Cambridge.[2] In the words of one writer at the Cambridge Chronicle, “No suburban city is more vitally interested in rapid transit than Cambridge.”[3]


Looking down Mass. Ave. incline, 15 November 1911

The Commission holds several boxes of BERy cyanotypes in the archives as well as vertical research files in our main office. To research our BER-y photographs and related collections, please contact our archivist, Emily Gonzalez by e-mail at or by phone at 617.349.4683.


[1] Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, “The Rapid Transit Commission and the BERY,” MBTA > About the MBTA > History. Accessed May 15, 2017.

[2] Susan E. Maycock and Charles M. Sullivan, Building Old Cambridge. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016.

[3] “What it Means to Cambridge,” Cambridge Chronicle (Cambridge, MA), May 12, 1894. Retrieved from


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