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Early years

Behold the beginning. Full story of Burlington’s origin here.



Sewall House on Lexington Street. It appears on the town seal, but it burned down in 1897.

Sewall House Burlington, MA, burned down n 1897

Sewall House Burlington, MA, details of fire


Electric trolleys heading to Pinehurst, Billerica c 1900


All aboard! Burlington was part of the Lowell & Boston Street Railway, an electric trolley line, which opened in September of 1901. The local section ran through Woburn, Burlington Pinehurst (Billerica) and Lowell and carried people, mail, merchandise and farm products. The first route went up Center Street to the common, until a car become stuck on the way up that hill. The rail company moved the line to nice, flat Winn Street instead.

But that meant getting off on Winn Street and walking uphill to the common. An executive from the train company pressured Burlington to build a shortcut, so his passengers could go back and forth without getting muddy. He even offered to help pay for it. The town named the street after him, since it was his idea. His name was Joshua Montgomery Sears.

Sears St. trolley stop Burlington MA
That’s the bottom of Sears Street, at Winn Street. She is waiting for the trolley.

Sears Street sign

Here’s the first article about the Woburn/Lowell line, when it was a mere proposal in 1892. Note the reference to Swamp Road. That was the casual name for Lowell Street in Burlington. If you’ve ever driven it, you’ll understand.

Electric railroad proposed from Woburn to Lowell, through Burlington MA

The trolley lines didn’t last long. By 1904 the Burlington tracks had “gone to seed,” according to the Lowell Sun. When one section of track failed to turn a profit, it created a domino effect on affiliated rail lines. In short, a deck of cards collapsed, creating the biggest bankruptcy case ever in Massachusetts at the time. The automobile emerged as the preferred mode of personal transportation.

May 25, 1905 Lowell Sun

Here are the electric trolley cars. One is still on display in Lowell.


Farther north in Burlington, here’s the Reed house and Reed Ham Works, the town’s biggest company and its only real industry in the early 1900s. It turned pigs into ham and bacon, employing about 25 people. The Reed house is still there at 336 Cambridge Street. Full story here.

T.I. Reed house (right) on Cambridge Street, Burlington MA
T.I. Reed house on the right. Yes, you’re looking up Cambridge Street just north of where LaCascia’s is located today. Those Chestnut trees are the namesake of nearby Chestnut Ave.


Reed Ham Works with trolley tracks
Reed Ham Works with trolley tracks
Reed Ham Works site today
Reed Ham Works site recently (before 2020 demolition)

The railway made a popular stop in a new recreation/retreat area called Pinehurst Park in Billerica. The hurricane of 1938 destroyed it.

Pinehurst Park, Billerica, MA. Photo credit: Frank P. Levine
Pinehurst Park, Billerica, MA, about 1920. Photo credit: Frank P. Levine

Main Street is now Center Street. Those houses on the left are standing where the fire station and town offices are today.

Main Street (now Center Street), Burlington, MA 1910

Below is Grandview Farm, which still stands at 55 Center Street next to the police station. Notice the shadow of the photographer’s vehicle in the snow!

Grandview Farm with horse shadow Burlington MA c. 1900

This house with the dual chimneys is 28 Stony Brook Road, one of the Graham homes. The house is facing Stony Brook, and it’s still standing today. That little white house in the distance, in the top right corner of the image,  is 82 Lexington Street, part of the Pero property. Photo credit: Carol Skelton.


28 Stony Brook Road area, Burlington MA



Welcome home, soldier! The town held a Welcome Home Jubilee for returning WWI troops. Notice Leonard Millican and Kenneth McKenzie, killed in action. Burlington’s American Legion Post 273 on Winn Street is named after them.

Welcome Home Jubilee July 12 1919, Burlington MA

William H. Winn house, Newbridge Ave. It was moved to Wellesley and is now part of Wellesley College. Full story here.

William Winn mansion 6, Burlington, MA


In business news — Burlington brew?

In agricultural news — a record-setter!

John Graham cabbage 1916


In 1940, Burlington consisted of these tax districts:

  • Burlington (meaning mostly the central section)
  • Overlook (Peach Orchard, Wellesley Ave., etc.)
  • Village Acres (Bedford, Fairfax, Church Lane)
  • Village Farms (Winona, Nevada, Rahway, etc.)
  • Garden Acres (Wilmington Road)
  • Garden Acres Add. (Wilmington, Wheatland, Westwood)
  • Winnmere (Winn, Glen, Overlook, Edgemere, etc.)
  • Winnmere Add. (Winn, Hampden, Harriett)
  • Burlington Farms (Hillcrest, Pathwoods, Purity Springs)
  • Pinewold (Terrace Hall, Bedford, Humboldt, etc.)
  • Bungalow Park (Cambridge, Douglass, Van Norden)
  • Riverbank Terrace (Francis Wyman)
  • Perkins Lots (Lexington, Bedford)
  • Burlington Heights (Church Lane, Elm, Edgemont, etc.)

Here are some pre-1920 real estate ads for Burlington and other towns. Prospective buyers would hop on the local trolley system to have a look at a nice slice of country living in places like, uh, Medford.


Just over the border, here’s the real estate scene in Vermont-like Billerica.


A few years later, goodbye trolleys and hello automobiles — and accidents.


Union School, built 1897
Union School, built in 1897, marked the end of those little one-room schoolhouses scattered here and there. The Union School atmosphere was rather severe. Story here.


Barnaby's school bus, Burlington, MA 1902
An early school bus (1902), operated by a man named Barnaby.


A wealthy Burlington native died in 1906 and bequeathed a huge tract of desirable land to the town, since he had no children. The one stipulation: it must be used for a public park. The location? A hill near the common. His name? Marshall Simonds. That’s him on the left.

Birth of Simonds Park 1906, Burlington MA

He had property very close to Cambridge Street before it became a real road. Looks like he wasn’t too keen on the project:

Cambridge Street is born 1904

After his death, as the town took custody of the property, a crew of women planted 300 apple trees there. What happened to them? Simonds Park does indeed have a wooded area, but it’s entirely coniferous. Irma Alberghini has no recollection of them even in her youth, and she’s old enough to remember crawling across Simonds Park during the hurricane of 1938.

Mass tree-planting at Simonds Park 1915


Boy Scouts begin in Burlington, MA 1916
Boy Scouts begin in Burlington, 1916


The only eatery on Cambridge Street:

Grey Squirrel ad 1935 Burlington, MA
Grey Squirrel ad 1935. Full story here.


59 Mill Street, Burlington MA
59 Mill Street, at the corner of Chandler Rd, c. 1915. Photo credit: Neal Gaffey
Gaffey's house 59 Mill Street Burlington MA
Same property, this time showing the junction of Mill Street and Chandler Rd.
7 Ellery Lane Burlington MA
7 Ellery Lane, which existed long before there was an Ellery Lane, or Red Coat Lane, or Drake Road. Article here.


State Road (Cambridge Street) at Center Street triangle, Burlington MA
Cambridge Street (a.k.a. State Road because the state owns it) at the junction of Center Street.

Cambridge St at Center Street Burlington MA

This building stood where the fire station is now. That’s the “barge,” the town’s first school bus, out front.

FF Walker Dairy, now the location of Saint Margaret's church on Winn Street. Recognize the hill?
FF Walker Dairy c. 1905, now the location of Saint Margaret’s church on Winn Street. Recognize the hill?


This Boston tobacco company apparently had a Burlington operation. It had a bankruptcy in 1903, but it’s still operating today.

Libero J. Peretti tobacco can

Peretti bankruptcy


In other news:

1903 Boston Globe stalker
Sept. 27, 1903. No names, addresses or even a hint about what part of town? Is it too late to call the Globe and complain?


Farm killing 1913 Burlington MA1918 Walker Farm lightning, Burlington MA1922 Burlington goes wet

November 1907 suspicious death (no follow-up coverage exists)

Sarah Higgins death 1907 Burlington MA

Sarah Higgins case, Stubbs house Burlington MA

Sarah Higgins case jump page Burlington MA


First high-speed police chase in Burlington history?

PJ Smith story police chase

Transcribed from the 1905 Lowell Sun article above — PJ Smith, the junk man with a long and checkered career, after leading a respectable life for a few years, has fallen back into his old ways again, according to police, and this morning he landed behind the bars again.

He was arrested on the road between Billerica and Burlington early this morning by Constable Livingston of Billerica, after the most exciting chase that the official has had since the memorable night 10 years ago when Duray S. Foster was murdered in the same vicinity, and only a short distance from the scene of this morning’s chase.

Both Smith and the officer were behind fast horses, and they madly raced over a mile of rough country road until a shot directly across Smith’s face brought him to bay.

Wire thievery among us

For some time past, the telephone and other companies have been experiencing great trouble from wire thieves who, in the dead of night, have gone into the country and deliberately stripped the poles along the roadside of their wires. The telephone company, in order to protect itself, placed an employee on the work of inspecting the wires between Boston and Manchester every 10 minutes during the night. Thus as soon as a wire was cut the fact was known.

About nine this morning, Officer Conway of North Billerica received a telephone message to the effect that the wires were being tampered with somewhere in the vicinity of Burlington. Officer Conway immediately notified Officer Livingston by telephone at the centre and instructed him to take the Turnpike to Burlington, while he would go to Burlington by way of North Billerica and meet him on the Turnpike on the way back, thus completing the circle.

Officer Conway got the horse and buggy of Street Superintendent Twombley and started for Burlington, Mr. Twombley accompanying him.

The culprit discovered

Meanwhile, officer Livingston hitched up his buggy and started away accompanied by his son. They drove along in the dark through southeast Billerica until they reached a point near the Burlington line when they discerned the shadowy outline of a democrat wagon ahead of them. As they approached the wagon, the driver whipped up his horse whereupon officer Livingston cried for the driver to stop, explaining that he was an officer of the law.

Instead of stopping, the the unknown driver yelled to his horse to go ahead and put the whip over the animal until it started into a mad gallop. Officer Livingston whipped up his animal too, and went right after the receding fugitive.

Both had good horses and they went along at a mad gallop, the officer yelling at the fugitive to stop as they dashed along over the roughest kind of road. In a short time, officer Livingston reached the rear of the other wagon, but owing to the narrowness of the road, could neither pass nor go abreast it. As he drew near he cried out, “Stop or I’ll shoot you!”

His warning had no effect on the unknown, who only urged his horse more. Then Officer Livingston drew his revolver and fired a shot over the head of the driver, who did not pay the slightest attention to it, but kept going at full speed. After warning him again, Officer Livingston fired a second shot over the driver’s head but failed to frighten him.

Shot across his face

Finally after they had raced about a mile, they came to a place where the road widens for quite a distance, and here Officer Livingston, taking careful aim, fired a shot directly across the face of the fugitive. The bullet must have gone dangerously close to PJ’s nose, for it made him duck back and pull up his horse, and in a few moments the two teams came to standstill in the road, the horses badly winded and white with foam.

Officer Livingston jumped from his sleigh and mounted the wagon and there he found that the man he had been chasing was none other than the “celebrated” PJ Smith, one of the coolest men on earth.

“Hello PJ,” said Constable Livingston.

“Hello, old boy. How’s the health?” calmly responded Smith.

“Why didn’t you stop when I told you to?” demanded the constable.

“Why bless your soul. I took you for a highwayman. If I thought for a minute that it was you, I would have stopped. Why didn’t you tell me who you were? You scared the life out of me,” said PJ.

When asked what he was doing out there at that time in the morning, Smith coolly replied, “I was taking a drive down here to attend to some business the first thing in the morning, and I just met two fellows who sold me some wire. I’ve got it in the wagon.”

“You met two fellows on the road?” asked the constable.

“Why sure. You don’t mean to say you didn’t meet them? Why, they were up that way just a few minutes ago. I don’t see how you missed them unless they went into the woods,” answered Smith.

Officer Livingston then looked into the wagon and there found about 150 pounds of telephone wire and a pair of tin shears such as are used for cutting wires.

“What were you doing with those wire cutters?” asked Officer Livingston, holding up the telltale shears.

“Were those in the wagon?” asked Smith, apparently in great surprise. “I’ll bet those two fellows I met threw them in there when they were leaving,” he added.

Meanwhile, Officer Conway came up, and all started back to Billerica, with PJ expressing great surprise that officer Livingston had let the two men he had met get by him. Smith was locked up in this city and will be arraigned later.

When daylight came, an investigation was made of the wires in the vicinity, and the place was found where the wires had been cut. It seems that Smith, in order to cut the wires, climbed the pole and cut one end off at the pole, which would cause the wire to drop and trail along the ground until raised again at the next pole. Going to the second pole he would cut as high as he could reach. The wire was then rolled up and deposited in the wagon.

Smith’s record and escapades

There is perhaps no more interesting character in local police annals the PJ Smith. Whenever police inspectors discuss the celebrated events that have happened in Lowell, someone is always sure to quote from the escapades of PJ Smith. In April, 1895, he was sentenced for nine months for larceny. In April and May 1897, he was in on charges of larceny, and was defaulted in the superior court, but on May 13th of that year he was taken before the court and sentenced to 10 months and four months on those complaints. He did a term from another town for another offense. He has also had trouble with the police of Beverly and Waltham.

Down in Billerica several years ago, he stole 190 pounds of block tin from the chemical company and was caught by officer Peter Cawley in the dead of the night. At the Tewksbury almshouse some years ago, he bought a large quantity of brass and boxed it up for shipping from the Tewksbury station to a firm in Boston. It was put on a freight car at Tewksbury which was to leave the next morning, but when morning came it was found that the car containing PJ’s shipment had been entered and the brass stolen. PJ entered a claim against the Boston & Maine. The goods were recovered afterward from PJ himself.

Another time he was accused of going to the old nickel mine in Methuen, near the Dracut line, and selling a stationary engine that had been left there. The mine, needless to say, was not his property.

Once under arrest in Ayer, PJ was brought down by a police officer from that town, and upon arriving in Lowell, he asked his custodian to take him to city hall to see Mayor Crowley, whom he claimed was a friend of his. The unsuspecting officer complied with his request, and then they reached the mayor’s office, PJ said to the officer, “Now you take a seat here and I’ll be out in a few minutes.” The officer sat down outside the door to the mayor’s office and felt proud at the thought that he was the custodian of a prisoner who was on intimate terms with the mayor of the city. After he waited about a half hour for PJ to come out, he began to get nervous and, shortly after, he decided to enter the mayor’s office, which he did, only to find that PJ had left the office by another door a moment after he had entered.

Said he’d reformed

Smith was an important witness in the Biondi murder case. When Lawyer Owens for the defense produced his record, PJ made an eloquent speech stating that he was getting along in years and had seen the error of his ways and had determined to live an honest live henceforth. He admitted the records against him and said that he was deserving of more punishment than he got. His remarks left a deep impression on everyone in the courtroom at the time, since that time up to the present he had not been arrested.

It is remembered that at one time, PJ Smith was a respected citizen, running a junk business on a large scale. He served as president of the common council and overseer of the poor.