The Bolton-Titanic Connection

by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, April 1998.)

Abraham Lincoln said that we cannot escape history—sometimes I wonder if I’m being pursued by it. At a post-Christmas party, I was introduced to Mike Foley, owner of the Foley Baker organ company located at 1212 Boston Turnpike in Bolton. Mike told me that when he bought the building from AT&T in 1979 he was told it had a Titanic connection. When the ship Titanic sank, word was radioed to London and then to France, where it was transmitted at the speed of light in an underwater cable to Orleans, Massachusetts, and then to a repeating station in the basement of his building here in Bolton, and then finally on to New York City.

As Mike spoke I imagined the mournful sound of the Titanic as its fog horn pealed out its warning in the cold fog of the north Atlantic. What strange circumstance of fate could possibly bring Bolton into this picture? And so I began an investigation of the "Bolton Connection."

Mike told me that the cable conduits for the lines were now all empty. When he said his building dated from 1939, I wondered how it could have been involved with the Titanic, which sank in 1912. At that time, the roads in Bolton were still all dirt. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that Boston Turnpike was included in the national highway system as a way to provide jobs. Mike had written to the French cable station that had built the line, but did not get a response.

I decided to take the investigation onto the Internet. I hit pay dirt and came up with the name French Cable Station Museum in Orleans, Massachusetts. I called and spoke to Donald Howe, the engineer who keeps the museum equipment in running order. He said their station was built in 1890 and that he believed they once had an inland line but didn’t know any of the details. He offered to let me look through their files if I wanted to research the route further, but that could mean a wait of several months. When I told him about the sinking of the Titanic and the possible Bolton connection, I detected something in his voice that told me I had sparked his curiosity.

The very next evening I got a call from Howe. He had gone through the records himself and confirmed that, beginning in 1890, the French undersea cable took an inland route through Bolton on Boston Turnpike. The 1939 building probably had replaced an earlier building on that site. Howe confirmed that the line was in service at the time of the Titanic and through World War II. At some point in time, AT&T began providing a leased line. In 1979 the Orleans station was bought from the French by townspeople to preserve their heritage. That was the same year Foley Baker bought the Bolton property.

I called Mike Foley to tell him that the "Bolton Connection" to the sinking of the Titanic was still intact. Who knows what other news flowed silently beneath the soil of Bolton Notch?