Renovation, restoration of Gerrish Depot planned
These days, the old Gerrish Depot station in Boscawen isn’t much to look at.
The dilapidated wooden building on Daniel Webster Highway, built in the mid-1800s, has been seldom used since the last Northern Railroad train rolled through in 1965.
But a new owner, the state Division of Resources and Economic Development, is expected to bring new life to the old building.
The state Department of Transportation is transferring ownership and management of the building to DRED for “rehabilitation, historic preservation and management as a recreational facility.” The Bureau of Historic Sites, in collaboration with the Town of Boscawen and the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail in Merrimack County, will restore the historic building. The DOT, which took control of the depot when it bought the abandoned Northern Railroad, is making the transfer so the depot can be integrated into DRED’s overall management of the railroad corridor.
“It’s really difficult to spend money on a property if you don’t have an end use for it. In this case we had some real, viable stakeholders,” said Ben Wilson, director of the Bureau of Historic Sites. “This could be a real success story, both for the community and for the building.”
Exterior renovations could begin this fall, Wilson said. Once complete, the building will serve as a gateway to the Northern Rail Trail.
“The building will be open as a quasi-visitor space for folks using the rail trail,” Wilson said. The Boscawen Historical Society will use the depot as exhibition and meeting space, he said.
“A lot of historical societies don’t have space to store their collections, so this will be an opportunity for them to have an exhibit space,” he said.
A project cost will be determined later, he said. The Bureau of Historic Sites will use money from the state’s conservation license plate program and fundraising and donations from local partners.
The depot would be a logistical departure point because it has offroad parking and trail information nearby.
“Starting at the depot would give riders an opportunity to learn about the trail and pick up maps and information,” said Alex Bernhard, president of the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Northern Rail Trail in Merrimack County. The bike trail extends 52 miles north to Lebanon and, once a 2-mile stretch is complete in August, about 8 miles south of the depot in Boscawen.
“It would take some tweaking and some planning, but I think it could be used 365 days a year,” Wilson said.
In the 1990s, snowmobilers wanted to convert the depot into a clubhouse for riders because of its location near the rail trail. The depot is a popular access point for trails along the railroad beds, said Scott Hill, president of the Town Line Trail Dusters snowmobile club.
The snowmobiling near the depot “is awesome,” he said. “That’s the start point. People come into town, park their trucks and trailers and go from there.”
A partnership with snowmobilers could be considered, Wilson said. “That’s certainly something we could determine in the future,” he said.
As one of only two unaltered railroad stations in the area, and one of interest to railroad hobbyists, motorists and anyone interested in Boscawen’s history, the depot is an important building worthy of restoration, historian James Garvin said.
“It’s a little harder for us today to imagine what Gerrish was like. It had a lot of architectural integrity,” he said. “It’s lucky we even still have the building.”
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or email@example.com.)