19 Grove St. ~ PO Box 58 ~ Peterborough, NH 03458 ~ 603-924-3235 

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By November 4, 2013 Read More →

Train Service in Peterborough

Depot“What a neat little terminal!’ And so it was!  Compact and efficient, 500 x 600 feet, large enough to service the community and the various trains that came into the area.  The Boston and Maine railroads owned the 2½ acres on which it was built. The area was bordered by the Nubanusit River on the south and the Contoocook on the east; trains were limited to three cars allowing room for a “turn-around” for the locomotive.

Earlier, the area was serviced by stage lines, the first begun in 1828, a mail and passenger stage from Exeter to Brattleboro with three weekly trips through Peterborough.  The fare was $3.00 per passenger.  However, this stage had a short life because the first passenger and freight steam  railroad was completed in 1833, operating in South Carolina, and in Massachusetts in 1835.  In 1838 the railroad extended to Nashua where passengers could board a stage to Peterborough, ultimately connecting Peterborough residents to Boston.  When the railroad extended to East Wilton, passengers were able to board the train in Boston at noon, arrive in East Wilton, then travel by stage to Peterborough.

As more railroads developed, the need for stage lines dissipated.  The Monadnock Railroad Corporation was organized in 1868, with grading from Winchendon in 1869.  There was disagreement, however, because of the hilly terrain, about where to lay the tracks, resolved finally with the decision to follow a higher grade rather than the course of the Contoocook, terminating then at Evans Flats. The trains were running finally on June 5, 1871, arriving from Winchendon through Rindge and Jaffrey.

Where to locate the terminal, however, caused additional disagreement discussed at a town meeting.

The railroad directors chose the area and it became Depot Square.  Peterborough citizens subscribed a considerable amount of stock in the railroad encouraging progress in the town, some of the stock, though, unpaid for. The siding along the Contoocook served, at different times, coal, grain and feed businesses as well as a furniture store, and further on, an oil dealer.

Early passengers were enthusiastic about the opportunity to travel by train.  One commented, “I like this mode of traveling much better than the stage; the rumbling is rather unpleasant, but not so much so, as jolting and dust in a stage.”

As railroads expanded, the Monadnock Railroad, first under the control of Boston, Barre and Gardner, the Cheshire Railroad and the Fitchburg Railroad, by 1900,the Boston and Maine, the line became the alternate inland route between Worcester and Concord with Peterborough the junction and change point. There were three tracks in front of the depot.  Arriving passengers disembarked and often changed trains.  Departing trains then returned to their original sources. The operation of the railroad was not without unexpected difficulties in the early days, however.  Once when a coupling broke, the engineer arrived in Jaffrey without his train.

When various companies ceased operation or moved, it was necessary to relocate the tracks.  In 1911 a canopy which covered the platform was ultimately shortened, however, until it extended only over the depot and the express office.  In 1924 when the basket and then the shoe company left the site, the siding tracks were cut back, servicing fewer freight trains, although passenger trains were still in operation especially between Peterborough and Worcester.  The future of rail service in Peterborough, however, was uncertain.  Flooding in 1936 and again, with the hurricane of 1938, damaged the tracks reducing the opportunities for rail service.

By the 1950’s the demand for passenger and freight service to and from Peterborough decreased.  Eighty years earlier, a twelve year old girl, standing in her back yard, watched the first train arrive in Peterborough.  In 1953, that same girl, now 94, watched the last passenger train depart. The tracks lay dormant until they were removed in Peterborough and Jaffrey in 1971 and 1972. There was no longer a need for a terminal. Depot Square as a terminus for the railroad became part of the legendary history of the town of Peterborough but assumed a new life as a terminus for multiple shops attracting townspeople and visitors.