Boston Sand and Gravel and the northbound train

January 5, 2016

By Mike Ross, The Boston Globe

Boston Sand and Gravel, now in its 102d year of operation, is one of the city’s most curious landmarks. With its giant cisterns towering 120 feet in the air and its long double-barrel conveyor belts angling earthward, the concrete mixing plant looks more like it belongs as the backdrop for a scene in a Batman movie. Indeed, it’s been used by Hollywood for “The Departed,” “The Town,” and “The Equalizer.”Website Insert Perfect Answer copy

But why is a hulking concrete plant, enmeshed in a spider web of highways and onramps, sitting in the middle of prime real estate? Just 1,200 feet away, in North Point, newly constructed luxury housing units are renting for $3,200 per month for a one-bedroom.

The question has come up on Reddit, which asked “What’s the story behind Boston sand and gravel?” Dozens of comments in response range from the ridiculous: “[Ben] Affleck has a part time gig down there” to the logical: “Why would you want to move the city’s largest concrete supplier further from the city?”

But whether it remains a concrete plant or is sold for new construction, its most valuable contribution to the region may have more to do with 43 miles of rail in New Hampshire that the company fortuitously thought to purchase in 1986.

Boston Sand and Gravel first opened at the current site of the Cambridgeside Galleria. At the time, the best method to extract raw materials for concrete was to dredge the ocean floor. The sand and gravel came in by boat via aqueduct. Soon, however, technology and resources necessitated a move to the rails. That’s why the current operation sits near tracks owned by the MBTA. Today, sand and gravel come in on rail from a pit 100 miles north, in Ossipee, N.H.

It’s that stretch of rail, rather than the plant itself, that has captured imaginations.

“We have a crisis in New England where the major tourist destinations are not accessible by public transportation,” said Peter J. Griffin, president of the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association, a group trying to bring back rail across the region.

He wants to see a return of the old ski train route that would bring riders to North Conway — a popular destination for skiers, hikers, and other year-round tourists.

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