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Contoocook train depot gets some upstairs attention

  • Jay Pier has volunteered his time painting the interiors of the Contoocook Railroad Depot for the Contoocook Riverway Association and will shift to the exterior with the warmer weather. Pier's father and grandfather were both master painters and he wanted to do something for the town after moving there from Florida.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jay Pier has volunteered his time painting the interiors of the Contoocook Railroad Depot for the Contoocook Riverway Association and will shift to the exterior with the warmer weather. Pier's father and grandfather were both master painters and he wanted to do something for the town after moving there from Florida.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Jay Pier has volunteered his time painting the interiors of the Contoocook Railroad Depot for the Contoocook Riverway Association and will shift to the exterior with the warmer weather. Pier's father and grandfather were both master painters and he wanted to do something for the town after moving there from Florida.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jay Pier has volunteered his time painting the interiors of the Contoocook Railroad Depot for the Contoocook Riverway Association and will shift to the exterior with the warmer weather. Pier's father and grandfather were both master painters and he wanted to do something for the town after moving there from Florida.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Jay Pier has volunteered his time painting the interiors of the Contoocook Railroad Depot for the Contoocook Riverway Association and will shift to the exterior with the warmer weather. Pier's father and grandfather were both master painters and he wanted to do something for the town after moving there from Florida.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jay Pier has volunteered his time painting the interiors of the Contoocook Railroad Depot for the Contoocook Riverway Association and will shift to the exterior with the warmer weather. Pier's father and grandfather were both master painters and he wanted to do something for the town after moving there from Florida.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Jeremy Blackman. Reporter for the Concord Monitor.

    Jeremy Blackman. Reporter for the Concord Monitor.

  • Jay Pier has volunteered his time painting the interiors of the Contoocook Railroad Depot for the Contoocook Riverway Association and will shift to the exterior with the warmer weather. Pier's father and grandfather were both master painters and he wanted to do something for the town after moving there from Florida.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Jay Pier has volunteered his time painting the interiors of the Contoocook Railroad Depot for the Contoocook Riverway Association and will shift to the exterior with the warmer weather. Pier's father and grandfather were both master painters and he wanted to do something for the town after moving there from Florida.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Jay Pier has volunteered his time painting the interiors of the Contoocook Railroad Depot for the Contoocook Riverway Association and will shift to the exterior with the warmer weather. Pier's father and grandfather were both master painters and he wanted to do something for the town after moving there from Florida.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Jeremy Blackman. Reporter for the Concord Monitor.

Jay Pier dipped a brush into a large bucket of off-white paint last week and began dabbing wall trim on the second floor of the historic Contoocook train depot. The scene around him was of organized chaos: piles of artifacts and vintage black-and-white photographs, barren floor boards, half-painted walls.

As the weather warms, Pier, a local handyman volunteer, and members of the Contoocook Riverway Association are busy buffing the village’s depot for summer crowds.

They still have a way to go: Items that were removed and stored over the winter have yet to be replaced; an ambitious upstairs renovation needs to be completed; and the siding on the association’s antique Pullman coach is faded and worn.

But progress is under way, said Steve Lux Jr., the nonprofit’s 23-year-old president. The upstairs paint job is halfway finished. A depot cleanup is scheduled for the last weekend of this month. And the rail car should receive new siding the first weekend in May.

Lux said the upstairs renovation, which began last year, is the most pressing project. Painting is the first step. Then the group plans to install new flooring, but it hasn’t yet raised enough funds to do so, Lux said.

The depot received a major face-lift between 2002 and 2005, but the work was primarily on the first floor. Once the upstairs project is finished, the plan is to use it as an educational and event space.

Though the second floor of some New England train depots were historically used as lodging for their station agents, Contoocook’s was used mostly for storage, said Dane Malcolm, the association’s vice president.

Malcolm, a self-proclaimed train buff who has spent decades riding trains and photographing rail lines around

the world, said the authenticity of the Contoocook station and the care residents have given it is unique. And it is important, he added, because the station effectively ushered Contoocook out of pre-industrial hardship when it was built in the mid-1800s.

“Before the railroad came into Contoocook, no one went anywhere in the winter,” he said. “The roads were mud. People froze to death. When that rail came in, all the sudden it was connected to the world. It was the communication center. It was the transportation center. It was the real center of all activity.”

$400,000 restoration

The depot, which is located near the intersection of Maple and Main streets, was constructed in 1850 on what became the Boston and Maine Railroad. Passenger service ended in 1955 and freight service followed suit seven years later. The depot was eventually sold to an insurance company and over time was used as a post office and an architect’s headquarters, among other things, Malcolm said.

After falling into disrepair in the ’70s and ’80s, the town of Hopkinton took over the building, and in 1999 it sold it to the association for a dollar.

A $400,000 restoration was undertaken in 2002. Funded largely through a federal grant, it included a new wood-shingled roof and exterior siding, the installation of an indoor elevator and the cleaning and repainting of the depot’s train signal. The goal was to transport the station’s look to that of its early 20th century heyday.

“The first floor’s colors are original, the wood paneling is true, the lights are authentic to the era. It’s the way it was,” Malcolm said. “And in fact, it’s quite attractive when it’s filled with artifacts. But also sort of empty, because that’s the way it was back then – people came in to wait.”

The wooden Pullman was donated by New Boston lawyer in 2007. Malcolm recalled spending every day for three weeks that year laying down a strip of show track where the passenger car now rests.

Former association president Chip Chesley described the transformation as impressive.

“I think it’s pretty special to see the community grasp a piece of its history like this,” he said. “If you think in retrospect, at one point in time (the depot) was thought of as excess property. But the community came forward and saw an opportunity to develop it into something great.”

Moving forward

Lux, the current president, grew up in Hopkinton and has been on the association’s board for the past three years, serving as president for one year. He said he has no particularly strong family or other sentimental connection to the train industry.

“I used to travel up to the White Mountains on a train when I was a kid, but other than that, I haven’t spent a ton of time on a train,” he said. But he got interested in the association while working at TD Bank’s Hopkinton branch, which neighbors the depot.

“I think it’s an important part of our past,” Lux said. “And I think it’s important to educate people young and old – and even from other countries – about it.”

Lux said he hopes to secure sponsorship from a local business to help with flooring and other maintenance costs (as well as insurance on the building). The group also plans to step up its fundraising this year, for both current projects and future ones – an outdoor handicapped-accessible ramp, for example – he said.

In the meantime, Lux built a new website for the association to give it a fresh look and spread the word about its work.

Malcolm lauded Lux’s work ethic and ambition, but he said the group now needs to catch up to the quick pace it has set for itself. Adding to the challenge is the fact that Lux is moving out of the region in July.

Pier, the handyman, is originally from Florida but said he got interested in the depot and its surrounding park after moving to Hopkinton. “My dad liked trains and was a history fanatic,” he said. “I had some time on my hands, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I do something for a complete stranger?’ So here I am.”

Pier estimates it will take the rest of the year to finish the woodwork and paint the upstairs and exterior (which he also has volunteered to do).

Community members are encouraged to join the clean-up effort April 27, and the passenger car siding project May 4. Both events begin at 9 a.m.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The bank where Steve Lux, Jr. worked is TD Bank, not TB Bank.

Legacy Comments2

as a kid I can remember the train whistle while staying at JoSylvia Lake (Clement pond) and seeing the train when we come into the Tookie village come through the covered bridge and cross Park Ave. Rich Sharpe

the failure to mention that the FARMERS MARKET is held there on Saturday mornings misses a great opportunity to bring more visitors....skipping the fact that there is a covered bridge attached to the project is another gem un-reported....one has to wonder if the author actually visited the sight of the story

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