Builders of Wooden Railway Cars ... and some of other stuff

Davenport & Bridges - Page 3

The very first issue of Scientific American magazine lauded the stability of Davenport and Bridges’ new trucks —

“Some of the most elegant cars ... run with a steadiness hardly equalled [sic] by a steamboat in still water, are manufactured by Davenport & Bridges, at their establishment in Cambridgeport, Mass. The manufacturers have recently introduced a variety of excellent improvements in the construction of trucks, springs, and connections, which are calculated to avoid atmospheric resistance, secure safety and convenience, and contribute ease and comfort to passengers, while flying at the rate of 30 or 40 miles per hour.” {445}

Davenport & Bridges 1845 boxcar

12-ton, single-sheathed box car advertised by Davenport & Bridges in 1845. White says the inside-bearing iron-framed trucks were atypical. (American Railroad Journal, 12 June 1845)

Six issues later, Scientific American was reporting that “The town of Fitchburg, Mass., has grown rapidly since the completion of the railroad from Boston, and enterprise has been greatly revived. [Among other things] Alvah Crocker, Esq., is erecting a brick building, two hundred feet long, between thirty and thirty-five feet wide, and four stories high, for a railroad car manufactory, to be occupied by Davenport & Bridges of Cambridgeport.” {496}

We have been able to find out little about this Fitchburg works. Here’s what we have so far —

o The History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, written in 1890, says that Charles Davenport’s brother Alvin and Albert Bridges’ brother Alfred opened the Fitchburg works, but suggests it was done at the same time as Charles and Albert opened the works at Cambridgeport. {425}
o The fourth annual report [1848] of the Directors of the Vermont & Massachusetts Railroad indicated they had contracted with “Messrs. Davenport, Bridges & Co., of Fitchburg for 10 First Class Passenger Cars, 4 Second Class Passenger Cars; 30 Eight Wheel Box Freight Cars; 25 Eight Wheel Platform Freight Cars, [and] 20 Four Wheel Box Freight Cars.” {498}
o On 8 December 1849 an early morning fire at Fitchburg destroyed several buildings including one housing “Davenport, Bridges & Co., car manufacturers.” The buildings belonged to Alvah Crocker, Esq. {499}

Meanwhile, back at Cambridgeport [1842], Davenport & Bridges was building some very large coaches (for the time) for the Eastern Railroad [Eastern from Boston, that is}. White says these “luxurious” cars seating 70 were “9˝ feet wide, or a foot wider than the usual day coach [with] seats mounted on pivots, upholstered like fine armchairs, and covered in a rich red mahogany plush. The interior paneling was mahogany, and the floor was laid in a diamond pattern of cherry and black walnut.” {497}

In 1846, Davenport & Bridges was engaged by the U.S. Government to build 100 baggage wagons for use in the Mexican War.{500} It is not clear whether these were railroad cars or actual wagons, but one suspects the latter. That same year Charles Davenport was one of the organizers of the Grand Junction Railroad, which it was hoped, would give his works its first railroad connection. {495} But that railroad was not chartered until 1847, and not completed until 1855: too late to be of any benefit. {439}

Undated - As Davenport Car Works, moved to new location in East Cambridge with access to Charles River and its own RR spur. (may be when began loco building)

1849 - Cambridge directory lists Lewis Kirk at different address than 1850 without occupation.

For some reason, Davenport & Bridges decided to expand their product offerings to include all the necessities of supplying a railroad, including locomotives. On 16 February 1849, they took into partnership one Lewis Kirk. The following advertisement makes it appear that Davenport & Bridges became Davenport, Bridges & Kirk. But either the latter was a new partnership running parallel to the former, or Kirk soon withdrew, as we shall see in a short while.

Kirk had had extensive experience building locomotives, and the future couldn't have looked better. The locomotive manufactory was constructed adjacent to the car shops. {501}

Davenport & Bridges 1849 Advertisement

(American Railroad Journal, March 1849)

But something went very wrong for by October, Davenport & Bridges had “stopped payment and suspended business.” It was reported that “the amount of liabilities [was] quite heavy and [would] probably involve sundry mechanics and traders in serious losses.” {502} Leaders of Cambridge Industry indicates that, “Mr. Davenport was a heavy holder of railroad stock and when stocks greatly depreciated in 1849 he lost over three hundred thousand dollars.” “When the railroad collapse came, cancellations of orders followed and there was no alternative but to suspend.” {439}
We find this very interesting, as we are aware of no “railroad collapse” at this time. But we are aware that Davenport must have spent a bundle trying to became ‘all things to all people.’ And his partnership with Albert Bridges ended 27 May of 1850.

(American Railway Times, 20 June 1850)

By 11 November of that year, Davenport was advertising “Locomotive Machinery for Sale.” Besides quite a list of different machines, he offered “Also to let—one Brick Building 200 feet by 40 feet, suitable Machine business. One Brick Building 115 feet by 40 feet for Foundry purposes, Steam Power, &c.” This advertisement was running in the American Railway Times as late as 10 July 1851.

Albert Bridges, meanwhile, had established himself in a partnership with a brother, presumably his twin Alfred, dealing in “railroad car findings and all articles pertaining to cars; wrought nuts, bolts and washers, engine and car screw bolts, all sizes; Locomotive Engine Lanterns, from the best manufacturers, Cotton Duck for Car Covers, of any required width, to 121 inches; plushes and Curled Hair, Enamelled Head Linings, Hand Cars on Hand and Made to Order, Agents for Lightners Patent Journal Box, Post's self-adjusting and Locking Switch, F.A. Stevens' Patent Railroad Car Brake, and Wrought Iron Railroad Chairs and Spikes.” Bridges & Brother was the name of this business. {503}

According to Leaders of Cambridge Industry —

“Within a few months the plant was reopened and was soon running to full capacity, this time under the name of C. Davenport & Company. By the close of 1851 the firm had done a business of well over half a million dollars. Within a few years Mr. Davenport had amassed another comfortable fortune and his creditors lost not one cent from the suspension of the firm.” {439}

1852 - DB&K ended; built only 1/2 doz. locos

1852/56(?) - Business reorganized as Charles Davenport & Company

1854 - Davenport Car Works located 708 Main Street.

In 1855, 43-year-old Charles Davenport closed down the car works and retired, a wealthy man, claiming to have produced some $4 million worth of cars for more than 50 railroads. {503}

RRs. (?) Plant sold to Caleb Allen and Henry Endicott

1855 Company (Davenport Car Works) sold (?)

1856 - Alvin Davenport, Charles Davenport and Charles Davenport & Company are taxpayers at Cambridge, Ward ????

1856ca. - DB&K ended. Co did not "flourish" ; blt ca. half dozen locos and closed 1852 [White/Locos-41]

Cast of Characters

Charles Davenport (1812-1903) was born at Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph and Susannah Beard Davenport and a descendant of Thomas Davenport who came to the United States well before there was a United States. {440} At age 16 he was apprenticed to George W. Randall, a wheelwright [coach and carriage builder] at Cambridgeport [E. Cambridge along the Charles River] and applied himself diligently to his studies. {439}

His diligence was recognized by Capt. Ebenezer Kimball, owner of a hotel and of a livery stable, who operated a stage line between Cambridge and Boston. The two formed the partnership of Kimball & Davenport and bought Randall’s business. They subsequently expanded the business, and sometime in 1833/34 built the first omnibus made in New England. In the fall of 1834 they began to build railway cars as well as road coaches and carriages.

When Kimball died, Davenport took as partner Albert Bridges, Kimball’s son-in-law and they did business as Davenport & Bridges, blazing the way in the development of early railway cars, and becoming perhaps the preeminent builder of railway cars in their times. Yet the partnership lasted little more than 10 years, ending in 1950.

Davenport & Bridges had largely accepted payment for its cars in the form of railroad stock, and when some of these roads encountered financial troubles it became worthless. In 1850, the firm was reorganized as Charles Davenport & Company, Albert Bridges having left to establish a railway supply firm with his brother Alfred. Both businesses prospered, but five years later Charles Davenport inexplicably chose to close down the business and “retire” to his estate in Watertown.


Davenport became a world traveler, making several trips to Europe as well as traveling extensively in the United States. Somewhere along the line he conceived the idea of developing the marshlands along the Charles River into a water park between Cambridge and Boston. He purchased a great deal of this land, and later sold it to the Charles River Embankment Corporation, which he had helped found. His vision of “a boulevard along each river bank, five miles in length and two hundred feet in width” was not to be realized, but he devoted much of his life’s energy to the development, and much of his dream was nevertheless realized.

Capt. Ebenezer Kimball (1792-1839) was a prominent man of Cambridgeport about the time Charles Davenport was growing up. He owned the Pearl Street Hotel, operated a livery stable and ran twice-a-day coaches to Boston and back. In 1826 he decided, in the face of conventional wisdom, to run his coaches hourly, and the “hourlies” proved quite successful. {439}

The Captain apparently became acquainted with young Davenport and took him under his wing, putting up the money to purchase George Randall’s carriage and wagon building business and form the partnership of Kimball & Davenport, coach builders. Soon Davenport was building all the coaches for Kimball’s flourishing stage line. {439}

We don't know much more about Ebenezer Kimball except that he married Eliza B. Sargent in 1824 and had four sons and two daughters.

Alvin Davenport ( - ) was born at Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, a brother of Charles Davenport. {425}
Became partners with Alfred bridges and located at Fitchburg. {425}
Taxpayers 1856 at Cambridge, Ward

Albert Bridges ( - )
Son of Ziba (Zilba?) Bridges, twin brother of Alfred. {425}
Raised at Newton Upper Falls. {425}
m. Eliza Ann Kimball (1817-1844+), 15 Oct 1839
Became partners with Charles Davenport and located at Cambridgeport.

Alfred Bridges ( - )
Son of Ziba (Zilba?) Bridges, twin brother of Albert. {425}
Raised at Newton Upper Falls. {425}
Became partners with Alvin Davenport and located at Fitchburg.

Lewis Kirk ( - )
Had been Master Mechanic of Reading RR from 1843 to 1848; previously had worked for the Locks & Canals shop (?) thus many yrs of loco experience. [White/Locos-41]

June 1848 Kirk an officer of Philadelphia & Reading RR

"Kirk was a mechanical genius and pioneered the use of standardized parts that could be interchangeably utilized on a wide variety of coal burning locomotives."

For More Information

“Charles Davenport, 1812-1903.” Leaders of Cambridge Industry. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Trust Company, 1931.

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29 April 2006

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