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Air line

Posted by Baceseras on October 13, 2007

In Reply to: Air line posted by Smokey Stover on October 13, 2007

: : : In the 1880s or thereabouts, there arose a phrase, "air line," which seems to have referred to a railroad route running (I think) through open country in more or less a straight line between two or more cities, and I believe it referred only to passenger service. Why "air" line? Is the from "open air," or "air like bird can fly through"? Any solid source for this once very commonly used term?

: : It might have been helpful to have given us some context, such as perhaps the name of two cities connected by such an "air line," or direct line "as the crow flies." The only such "air line" I was able to find was between Boston and New York City. Here's an excerpt from the article.

: : '. . . The Air Line Railroad is proof that some times a good idea on paper is not necessarily a good idea when built.

: : '. . . Two of the most important cities in the United States in the mid-1800s were Boston and New York City.
: : '. . . The "Air Line" route got it name from the idea that the railroad would follow a path as "if a line had been drawn through the air" between the two cities. It was planned to run diagonally across Connecticut, starting in New Haven and running northeast through Middlefield, Middletown, Portland, East Hampton, Colchester, Willimantic, Goshen, Dayville, and Woonsocket, R.I. and then on to Boston. . . .'

: : The proposed air line railroad ran into severe difficulties, mostly of a political nature. What remains of it is a 50-mile stretch of trail in Connecticut.

: : 'Since 1991, thousands of local residents and visitors have discovered the joy and beauty of the Air Line Rail Trail, a scenic and peaceful 50 mile stretch across eastern Connecticut, through the towns of East Hampton, Colchester, Hebron, Lebanon, Columbia, Windham, Chaplin, Hampton, Pomfret, Putnam, and Thompson.

: : 'This trail is part of a network of more than 1,000 rail trails winding some 10,000 miles across the United States. Because they offer unique opportunities for recreation, relaxation and solitude, these former railroad lines are enjoying popularity among walkers, hikers, bicyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts.'

: : The "former railroad line" referred to are presumablyl the remains of "air line railroads." See:

: :

The Air Line Railway, connecting Boston and New York City, began operation in 1873. Direct-line rail routes connectin other North American cities were a-building throughout the 1870s and 1880s. The air-line moniker was popularly applied to some of them, without regard for the 'official' names.

In 1983 Kenneth S. Lynn published "The Air-Line to Seattle", taking his title from some satirical verses by George Santayana, describing Harvard Yard in 1900:

Mid Uncle Sam's expanded acres There's an old, secluded glade Where grey Puritans and Quakers Still grow fervid in the shade; And the same great elms and beeches That once graced the ancestral farm Bending to the old men's speeches,
Lend their words an echo's charm.
Laurel, clematis, and vine Weave green trellises about, And three maples and a pine Shut the mucker-village out. Yet the smoke of trade and battle Cannot quite be banished hence, And the air-line to Seattle Whizzes just beyond the fence.

the book is also viewable at]