11 Retro Photos of the Orange Line

The MBTA’s Orange Line, like much of Boston, has a long, evolving history. The first parts of the elevated train were constructed in 1901, and by 1909, the train ran all the way from Everett to Forest Hills, with the southern portion riding above Washington Street. The route took a right turn when city residents defeated plans to extend I-95 through the heart of Boston, cutting through Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, and Roxbury. Unfortunately, the state had already cleared the land for the new highway, so they had to answer a question: What to do with all that empty space? The emerging answer was to build a new route for the Orange Line, as well as adding in a commuter rail line and the Southwest Corridor Park.

After the new tracks were completed in 1987, the Orange Line moved a bit west, and the original elevated line was torn down. But not before Robert Welsh snapped a bunch of photos. Welsh decided to dig them back up in honor of the 25th anniversary of the tearing down of the elevated line.

“In the 1970-80s I worked as a driver for the Red Cross delivering [patients] to city hospitals,” Welsh wrote in an email. “I passed by Orange Line stations and under the elevated tracks. Over the years I noticed the architecture of the stations: the character of the iron stairways, the light and shadows cast by the overhead tracks at different times of the day. I appreciated the copper used in the facade of Dover station and in the awning above the entryway of Northampton station. I noticed the beauty in the patina as the copper aged. These observations and others inspired me to bring a camera with me in 1983 to record the stations and the surrounding areas.”

Here, 11 cool photos of the elevated Orange Line circa 1983, courtesy of Welsh.

1. Orange Line traveling over Mass Pike:

(All photos by Robert Welsh)

2. Orange Line with Prudential Center in the background and some awesome cars in the foreground:

3. Dover Station in the South End, with the copper facade:

4. Dover Station with the Luncheonette Cafe, a Welsh favorite:

5. Washington Street and Mass Ave.:

6. Northampton Station (near Mass Ave./Washington Street), with Skippy White’s Records in the background:

7. Another shot of the elevated Northampton Station:

8. Egleston Station at Washington Street and Columbus Ave.:

9. Another shot of  the elevated Egleston Station:


10. Driving underneath the El on Washington Street, looking south toward Forest Hills:

11. The terminus of the line then and now remains the same: Forest Hills station:

  • Christopher Padgett

    Is it just me, or are there no railings on the platform at Washington and Mass. Ave.?

    • John O’Connor

      Wow. Now that I see that photo of Dover Station with the Deli on one side of the street and the bar (does anyone remember the name of that bar on the corner of Washington and E. Berkeley -talkin 1979?) where we’d cash our checks from working the daily labor place around the corner on Harrision St. it brings back good memories. I used to take the Orange line up to Washington station and then transfer to the Green line and ride it to North Station where I lived on the street where the Federal Bldg now is.

  • Ginni

    I love the Mass. Ave. at Washington St. view. I worked at BU Med Ctr for 16 years and for most of those years drove through this intersection with the El in place…was fun to weave in and out of the columns in traffic. Oh those 1980s everything was going at mach speed!

  • deborah franco

    Check out this article with photos by my cousin Robert Welsh, photographer! Way to go Rob – the photos are great!

  • http://MSN Phil Doucette

    Great photos. I lived not far from Dover street Station. I also frequented the delicatessen many times while growing up. Its name was the Premier Deli and it was great. You took a ticket when you went in and based on what you ordered thet punched the correct price holes in the ticket which you gave to the cashier on the way out in order to pay.
    Thanks again for the great photos.

  • Sam ashey

    Caption for photo number four wrong wrong wrong!

    • Brandon R

      And why is that?

  • Douglas Stevens

    Great flashback to a different time!

  • Jeanne Cronin

    Thank you for these great photos. I regret that I never did ride the orange line on its last days before it was demolished. I rode it daily from Dudley Street to and from high school in the 1950’s, and to and from the stores, and to and from my first job as a clerk at SS Kresge on Washington Street. I can still hear the wheels screech on the bend in the tracks outside Dudley Station (downtown side), and remember how exciting it was when the train entered the tunnel after Dover Street and before Essex Street stations. JDC

    • Dennie Mah

      Do you remember that SS Kresge sold 25 cent Italian subs with French dressing. The dressing made them special to me.

  • sergio

    The good old days, soul, Disco, Marvin gaye,
    and Skippy Whites.

  • boblothrope

    They didn’t add a commuter rail line. They took an existing line and moved it from an embankment to a trench.

  • andythebouncer

    Image for entry number one is broken for me, in a couple of different browsers. Opening it in a new window gives a 404.

  • Matt

    Northhampton Station I believe is still intact at the seashore trolley museum in maine.

  • Suzanne Gagnon

    Dover street was the poor children’s playground.
    From there we walked everywhere. The ocean. Franklin Park Zoo. The Boston Commons. We lived above a Fish Market about a half of a block from the station.. When the train went by, the windows would shake.

  • dskap201

    Does anyone remember all the names of the stations?

    Here’s my list but I know I am missing something here:
    Forest Hills, Green St., Egleston Sq., Dudley St., Northhampton, Dover, Boylston, Winter/Summer, Milk/ State, Union?,
    North Station, Sullivan Sq. Everett.

    Pretty sure I am missing at least one stop here, hope someone can help me out with this.

    I grew up in Jamaica Plain right at Green St. Station from 1953 -1966 and saw the transition from the old trains ( like in the King Kong movie) to the newer, modern Orange and silver trains.

    The older trains had a metal screen in the front car where you could stand and get a breeze as the train sped forward and you watched ahead just as if you were in control of the train.

    What a thrill that was!
    Yeah, I can still hear the squealing and screeching at the Dudley St turn to the left.
    Also loved looking down at all the people as we went from station to station.

    Great memories…..Thanks so much for these pictures!

    Dan Ski