One impediment horse riders encountered when traveling from Salem to Boston or points north was the area’s numerous rivers. Beginning in the late 1630s, this problem was alleviated by the appearance of ferries, which could accommodate animals, as well as humans. While not exactly a panacea — ferries’ schedules were erratic, especially in inclement weather — this development helped stimulate travel by horseback.
Horse-related transportation would get another big boost in the mid-18th century as bridges began replacing unreliable ferries and the region’s road system improved. Stagecoaches, each drawn by a pair of horses, began operating between Boston and Portsmouth, N.H., in 1761.
The route wound through Ipswich and what are now Peabody and Danvers. By 1770, there was also a stagecoach operating between Salem and Boston.
In the early 19th century, Salem’s Manning family controlled much of the area’s thriving stagecoach business. The firm also carried on a lucrative side business buying and selling horses. On his horse-brokering trips around New England, Samuel Manning was sometimes accompanied by a nephew, Nathaniel Hawthorne. The aspiring author used these trips to gather material for future writings.
The appearance of steam driven trains on the North Shore in the late 1830s was a serious blow to those in the stagecoach industry. As the train pushed farther north toward Newburyport and Gloucester, stagecoach companies began folding up their tents due to decreasing ridership.
But a quarter-century later, horse-powered mass transportation would reappear in the region and in a big way. In 1863, the Salem Street Railway Company began operating horse-drawn trolleys between Salem and present-day Peabody. The streetcars were an immediate success, and over the next 2 1/2 decades, many new routes were added. By the time the Naumkeag Street Railroad Company acquired the firm in 1887, it was also operating trolleys between Salem and Marblehead, Beverly, Danvers, Hamilton and Wenham. Its most popular line in the summer months was Salem Willows.