By Muriel Bristol | May 28, 2018
The railroad line that passes through Milton was built by the Great Falls and Conway Railroad. The railroad was incorporated in 1844, and was then
… authorized and empowered to locate, construct, and finally complete a railroad, beginning at or near the depot of the Boston and Maine Railroad, in Somersworth, and thence running through said Somersworth, Rochester, Milton, Wakefield, Ossipee, Effingham, Freedom, or Tamworth, to any place in Conway (Gregg and Pond, 1851).
The Great Falls and Conway line connected in Somersworth to the Great Falls and Berwick Railroad, which in turn connected to Portsmouth and beyond. The two railroad companies merged under the name Portsmouth, Great Falls & Conway Railroad (PGF&C) in 1848.
Construction began at the Somersworth (Great Falls) end and the stretch between there and Rochester opened on February 28, 1849. It had reached “South Milton” by 1850.
An 1851 tourist guide had Gt. Falls & Conway Railroad service terminating in Rochester. Chestnut Hill, Milton, and points beyond were accessible by stage only.
A blasting accident injured three members of a railroad construction crew extending the tracks beyond Milton in December 1852.
Milton was said to be the “terminus” in 1854, but construction had reached Wakefield’s Union village by 1855. There it stalled due to financial difficulties.
A Boston & Maine advertisement of 1861 mentioned that its Portland, ME, train connected with the Great Falls & Conway Railroad at Great Falls, NH, i.e., Somersworth. Wakefield’s Union village is the end of the line; travel beyond there was by stagecoach.
The 8.46 AM Train from Portland connects at Great Falls with the Cars of the Great Falls and Conway Railroad, for Rochester, Milton and Union Village, and Stages for Milton Mills, Wakefield, Ossipee, Conway, etc.; and at Dover, with the Cars of the Cocheco Railroad, for Rochester, Farmington, Alton, and Alton Bay; and with Steamer Dover, in Summer, on Lake Winnipiseogee, for Wolfboro, Center Harbor and Meredith Village, with Stages from Center Harbor for Conway and White Mountains (Willis, 1861).
Railroads have rarely been economically viable. The history of railroads is a history of government subsidies and interventions in favor of railroads. (A notable exception was James J. Hill and his Great Northern Railroad). But the Republican administrations that dominated the post-Civil War era were not overly attached to free market principles. As a general rule, they favored “internal improvements” (now called “infrastructure spending” or government “investment”), including railroad subsidies and other interventions.
The moribund Portsmouth, Great Falls and Conway railroad (PGF&C) construction was revived in July 1865, at least to some degree. But serious progress did not happen until the Eastern Railroad (eastern Massachusetts with branches) leased the PGF&C lines in September 1870 (it guaranteed the PGF&C’s bonds).
NEW HAMPSHIRE. At the meeting of the stockholders of the Eastern Railroad in New Hampshire, and the Portsmouth, Great Falls and Conway Railroad; held in Portsmouth, on Monday, the lease ot the latter road to the former was voted (Vermont Journal (Windsor, VT), September 24, 1870).
Leasing was a often a mechanism to eliminate competition; mergers often followed those leases.
The Eastern Railroad extended the PGF&C lines from Union to Wakefield, and then on to West Ossipee, between September 1870 and October 1871.
WHIFFS FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE. Last week at a town meeting, Ossipee voted five per cent. of its valuation to aid in extending the Great Falls and Conway railroad from Union Village to West Ossipee. There has been a wrangle over this railroad for several years, the track has been surveyed three times, each time locating somewhat better (New England Farmer (Boston, MA), September 13, 1870).
NEW HAMPSHIRE. Ossipee, having voted five per cent to have a railroad, is puzzled which of the three routes surveyed to choose, and will have to let the conformation of ground, and scarcity or abundance of rocks settle the question for it (Vermont Journal (Windsor, VT), September 24, 1870).
NEW HAMPSHIRE. The first passenger train over the Portsmouth, Great Falls and Conway extension passed to Wakefield station, six miles beyond Union, on Monday (Vermont Journal (Windsor, VT), [Saturday,] July 1, 1871).
The Great Falls and Conway Railroad is open to West Ossipee, N.H. (New England Farmer (Boston, MA), October 14, 1871).
By the beginning of July 1872, the Eastern Railroad was advertising that
THE PORTSMOUTH, GREAT FALLS AND CONWAY RAILROAD Is completed and running Trains to North Conway, and in connection with the Eastern Railroad forms the Shortest, Quickest and Only Route to North Conway and White Mountains … (Boston Globe, July 1, 1872).
The North Conway station was built in 1874. The PGF&C connected to the Portland and Ogdensburg Railway line at Intervale in 1875.
The Milton station depicted in old postcards and pictures was built in 1873. There might have been something there before that, such as a freight building, but perhaps not.
Historian Sarah Ricker seemed to think the station and the ice business began together in 1873, although she did not specify whether the chicken or the egg came first. She further reported that “… the area’s ice industry experienced tremendous success in the 1880s. The Milton Ice Company, one of five such businesses in town, shipped up to 100 carloads of ice to Boston every day.” Ice cutting is a seasonal affair, of course. Those ice companies remained active until the late 1920s.
The Eastern Railroad renewed its lease on the PGF&C line for a period of 60 years in 1878, but the whole was taken over by the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1890, which operated it as its Conway Branch line.
Transporting lumber and ice were early mainstays of the railroad. Mills sprang up, especially in places that had both the train and water power. That added raw materials and finished products to the freight. Milton participated in both ice and manufacture, but the mills and trains enabled also an exodus of sorts. An 1882 description of Milton mentioned that “there has been a small [net] decrease in population during the last twenty years, many leaving town for the cities and larger manufacturing towns for the purpose of engaging in other business than farming.”
The White Mountain Art movement predated railroad access to the White Mountains. This landscape painting movement began with stagecoaches in the early nineteenth century and had its heyday in the mid-nineteenth century. But it did enjoy improved railroad access for a time and it encouraged an initial wave of tourists to the White Mountains. Those tourists came by train. By the latter part of the nineteenth century, the White Mountain Art movement was being supplanted by the Hudson River School, Rocky Mountain art, and photography.
According to the Conway Scenic Railroad, North Conway is the “birthplace of American skiing.” Snow trains began running in 1932 to serve those skiers. “Countless skiers rode the snow trains as the sport of skiing grew with the development of ski lifts.” (See also Milton in the News – 1952 for a description of a snow train journey).
By the early 1950s, improved highways and America’s love affair with the automobile led to a decline in passenger service. Passenger service to Boston ended on December 2, 1961, as a single B&M Budliner headed south never to return. Freight customers continued to decline, too, and the last freight train departed on October 30, 1972 (Conway Scenic Railroad, n.d.).
The Portsmouth Herald published a list of fifteen Boston and Maine Railroad stations that would close as of June 1, 1958:
Here is a list of the 15 Boston & Maine Railroad stations in New Hampshire where passenger service will be discontinued June 1. Bath, Sugar Hill, Jefferson, Randolph, Fitzwilliam, Troy, Keene, Walpole, Hayes, Milton, Union, Burleyville, Mountainview, Mount Whittier, and Madison (Portsmouth Herald, May 9, 1958).
Ray’s Marina had supplanted the Milton Train Station by May 1963. The B&M went bankrupt in 1970. The last passenger train between Rollinsford and North Conway ran in 1972.
The railroad line continues in a limited way under the New Hampshire Northcoast Railroad (NHN). Ossipee is now its northern terminus. (Several disconnected stretches north of there are run as tourist attractions). It carries no lumber, ice, mill products, artists, skiers, or tourists now. It services only the sand pits of Ossipee with twice daily runs. They pass right on through and do not stop here.
Ray’s Marina closed in 2012. The train station’s freight depot building still remains, as a part of the Ray’s Marina complex. (Facing the marina buildings and the pond, it is the small building or shed on the left-hand end).
American-Rails.com. (2018). Surviving New Hampshire Railroad Stations. Retrieved from https://www.american-rails.com/support-files/new-hampshire-railroad-stations.pdf
Conway Scenic Railroad. (n.d.). A Brief History of Our Station. Retrieved from https://www.conwayscenic.com/history/station-history/
Foster’s Daily Democrat. (2016, May 12). Obituary: Rheaume J. (Ray) Lamoureux. Retrieved from http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/fosters/obituary.aspx?n=rheaume-j-lamoureux-ray
Gregg, W.P. and Pond, Benjamin. (1851). Railroad Laws and Charters of the United States. Boston, MA: Charles Little and James Brown
Historic Wakefield. (n.d.). Heritage Park Railroad Museum. Retrieved from http://www.historicwakefieldnh.com/heritage-park-.html
Hurd, D. Hamilton. (1882). A History of Rockingham and Strafford Counties. Philadelphia, PA: J.W. Lewis & Co. (also retrievable from Archive.org: https://archive.org/stream/historyofrocking00hurd#page/n5/mode/2up)
Jonathan (The Shark (102.1 & 105.3 FM)). (2016, April 1). Restaurants Eyeing The Site Of Ray’s Marina In Milton. Retrieved from http://shark1053.com/restaurants-eyeing-the-site-of-rays-marina-in-milton/
Marvel, William (Conway Daily Sun). (2018, May 2). Then and Now: A Conspicuous Manisfestation of Industry, 1890. Retrieved from https://www.conwaydailysun.com/community/history/then-and-now-a-conspicuous-manifestation-of-industry/article_279bf71c-4969-11e8-b663-b7d076758d9e.html
Poor, Henry V. (1860). History of the Railroads and Canals of the United States of America. Retrieved from books.google.com/books?id=M0YKAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA53
Ricker, Sarah. (1999). Milton and the New Hampshire Farm Museum. Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, SC, Chicago, IL, Portsmouth, NH, and San Francisco, CA
Rochester Courier. (1960, January 7). Close [Sanbornville] R.R. Station. Rochester Courier: Rochester, NH
Rochester Courier. (1960, January 28). B and M Requests Permission to Drop Passenger Service Entirely on Conway Branch. Rochester Courier: Rochester, NH
Wikipedia. (2018). Portsmouth, Great Falls and Conway Railroad. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portsmouth,_Great_Falls_and_Conway_Railroad
Wikipedia. (2018, March 10). White Mountain Art. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Mountain_art
Williams, W. (1851). The Traveller’s and Tourist’s Guide Through the United States of America, Canada, etc. Retrieved from books.google.com/books?id=OKAoECHHbM4C&pg=PA10
Willis, William. (1861). A Business Directory of the Subscribers to the New Map of Maine. Retrieved from books.google.com/books?id=mKm9lz1RH_0C&pg=PA307