Tuesday, December 28, 2021

In Their Footsteps: New England History - Edaville Railroad, Carver, Massachusetts

    For generations it has been a holiday right of passage for those living in Southeastern Massachusetts. Simple beauty, family fun, filled with wholesome memories, Edaville has been visited by countless thousands of families during its existence. Developed in the vision of its creator this Massachusetts staple has come back from several tragedies to now be going strong into its eighth decade. This is the story of the creation and perseverance of Edaville.

Christmas at Edaville(goaliej54/flickr)

    Born in 1889 Ellis D. Atwood was raised in Carver, Massachusetts. He graduated Tabor Academy in the nearby town of Marion. Later on he married Elthea Eldredge of Wareham in February 1919. 

    Atwood made a name for himself in the highly profitable local cranberry growing industry.  This began by him purchasing three acres of land from his father.  Then with his father died in 1915 Ellis took over all of the family cranberry business.  

    Ellis and Elthea lived in the Murdock-Atwood House near Sampson’s Pond which had been passed down to Ellis by his great-Uncle Marcus Atwood.

    The Atwood’s connection with the Christmas season began with an elaborate display on their front lawn in 1933. Cranberries, Christmas, and railroads, Ellis Atwood’s three favorite things, would eventually be brought together by another’s loss.

    What would eventually become Edaville Railroad was born out of the ashes of a defunct railway. The Bridgton and Harrison Railroad had begun operations in Maine in 1883. Late in 1941 it was being shut down. The rails and train cars were being destroyed. Having taken a blissful trip upon the railroad in August 1941, mere months before it was rendered obsolete, Atwood made a trip to Maine to buy what he could.

Ellis D. Atwood(Cranberries Magazine, Dec. 1950)

    On December 3, 1941 Atwood purchased one locomotive known as the Old No. 7. In addition he bought 11 box cars, 24 flat cars, a caboose, and a half-mile of two-foot gauge track. The final, and perhaps most important piece, was the hiring of former Bridgton and Harrison conductor Everett Brown. Atwood desired someone who knew the railroad and could teach him how to drive a train.

    Completing the Atwood property railroad was delayed due to World War II. Eventually though the man known as the Cape Cod Cranberry King soon had a fully-operational narrow gauge railway circumnavigating the 1,800-acre Atwood property. Atwood’s goal was to combine his success in the cranberry industry with his love of railroads. The new railway on his property was called the Cranberry Belt Line. It was used for sanding, spraying, and harvesting from the bogs.

    Atwood’s Cranberry Belt Line had more than five miles of track. There were some rumors in 1945 that Atwood was considering converting his railroad into an active route between Plymouth and Boston. That did not end up happening. Although it didn’t become an active passenger railroad Atwood’s train was used for more than work. Not long after beginning to take his own train rides around the cranberry bogs Atwood had curious neighbors stopping by for a trip of their own.

    In May 1946 Atwood parlayed his Cranberry Belt Line railroad into a local tourist attraction. He called it ‘Edaville’ for Ellis D. Atwood’s E.D.A. initials. By the end of the year more than 25,000 people had taken a ride on his locomotive around his cranberry bog property. During this first season all Atwood asked of his customers for a fare was common courtesy and common sense.

    Word quickly spread during the first few seasons of the Edaville Railroad. It was the last narrow gauge railroad in the country. In 1948 Atwood said that more than 35,000 people per month arrived to climb aboard the Cranberry Belt Line. The cars and stops along the railway had cranberry-themed names. These included cars named ‘Oceans Spray,’ ‘Eatmor,’ ‘Atwood Special,’ and stops called ‘Cranberry Valley,’ ‘Sunset Vista,’ and ‘Mount Urann’ which was named for Marcus Urann who was president of the National Cranberry Association.

The locomotive at Edaville, 1959(rickpilot_2000/flickr)

    Although it was popular during the warmer months due to there being a beach for summertime play it was the Christmas season where Edaville saw its largest crowds. In 1949 alone upwards of 75,000 people came for a ride to see the over 12,000 colorful lights and more than forty Christmas scene displays lit by floodlights. Train rides through the season began at 4:30pm and ran until midnight. Ellis Atwood had created a family-friendly and wildly popular local tourist attraction. However tragedy nearly ended Edaville.

    On November 26, 1950 Ellis Atwood was late returning home from Edaville. His wife Elthea went to check on him. She found him face down in the basement of the railroad administration building. The furnace had exploded with the door striking Atwood in the head. He clung to life at Wareham’s Tobey Hospital for four days before succumbing to his injuries on November 30th. Ellis D. Atwood, the Eda of Edaville, was dead at sixty-one.

    Cranberry growing had made Atwood a millionaire, but Edaville had brought him more love and popularity. His memorial held at Edaville was attended by more than 2,000 people. Elthea carried on the day-to-day operations of the park in Ellis’ honor. She increased the displays and lights surrounding the Christmas season in particular by creating the Edaville Christmas Festival. However it all became too much. Elthea sold Edaville to F. Nelson Blount in the spring of 1956.

    The railroad continued to thrill visitors for decades. It was sold a few more times yet each successive owner maintained or even improved upon the park’s presentation. The cranberry bogs were highly profitable due to their deep connection to the Ocean Spray corporation. In 1991 final owner George Bartholomew closed the beloved park. Most of the equipment was sold off shortly thereafter to a railroad museum in Portland, Maine. It seemed as though Edaville was finished after more than four decades in operation.

The entrance to Edaville on Rt. 58 in Carver.(T.S. Custadio/Wikimedia)

    The park sat vacant for eight years. In a surprising turn of events the CranRail Corporation bought the decaying Edaville in 1999. The company poured $5 million into restoring and renovating the park over five years. Edaville was reopened to much fanfare just in time for the Christmas Lights Festival in December 1999. Since its reopening Edaville has enchanted countless thousands of visitors. Parents and grandparents now bring new generations to enjoy Edaville much like they had.

    Ellis Atwood had only seen a tiny slice of the impact Edaville was to make on Massachusetts locals and visitors before his untimely death. Despite that his name is still front and center whenever someone utters ‘EDAville.’ It is far more than a little train roaming the cranberry bogs of Carver. Edaville is a destination for families annually. In a day when so much constantly changes Edaville is a throwback to a simpler time. It should be experienced, or re-experienced, by all of those within reach of the park.


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