Train depot brought hope

By James W. Spain II

For the Monitor

Published: 12-14-2018 4:53 PM

There was a time in the early years when the Merrimack River offered our ancestors a good life. It provided fertile grounds along the flood plain for planting crops and provided food to the hungry.

Along the banks our ancestors found American Elm seedlings growing wild and they harvested these seedlings and lined the unpaved streets of our community to provide shade, protection from the north wind and beauty.

Our beloved Merrimack River provided transportation to and from our early British province known as Rumford, as well as plenty of salmon. The Native Americans recognized and respected the bounty this little bend in the river provided for centuries before we arrived.

As the Industrial Revolution was churning toward the end, we found the railroad making progress offering safe passage for both the average citizen and freight. Commerce was ready to progress with the onset of the railroad and Concord was centrally located providing a destination for those rails. As the romance of the river faded into the past, we found ourselves with a modern convenience in America, the railroad.

With this development there was a need to accommodate passengers and freight as well as the business that it would bring to Concord. There was a need for a depot, a place for people to arrive and depart, this depot at Concord was viewed as a centerpiece in a very desirable location.

Prior to the arrival of the train a depot was built in Concord and used for stagecoach transportation. When the rails were set in place, the Concord Railroad started operating in 1842.As the years progressed, the depot was only used by the railroad.

When travelers arrived, they were greeted with a most civilized community as they left the depot, perhaps an evening strolling Main Street with dinner and a night stay at the Eagle Hotel. Fine food was served and entertainment provided over the years at the Phenix Hall or White’s Opera House. Many early shops carried the latest goods so we found that our community was indeed a destination location. The Merrimack River and the stagecoach faded into the past as the railroad progressed with affordable transportation.

As the years continued, the Concord Train Depot was replaced by yet another in 1860, larger and more impressive to the passengers. The trains were arriving on a regular basis and commerce continued to benefit. The railroad provided many jobs to the people and many appreciated this wonderful opportunity to earn a fair wage allowing them to provide for their families.

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In 1885, a third depot was constructed, this being the grandest depot of all. It was constructed with brick and mortar, an ornate copper roof; the detail was amazing. It was a showpiece in the northeast, gracing railroad square for 75 years until the Capital Shopping Center was built in 1960.

Many servicemen and woman departed our train depot, serving in the early wars. It has been said that the Concord Depot was the port that launched thousands of servicemen and woman. I know that my family, and perhaps yours, too, saw our ancestors ushered off to war. For some, it was the last time they stood together embraced, within this grand depot, for war would harshly claim their future.

The railroad depot was razed on this 25-acre site just prior to the construction of the Capital Shopping Center. The train shed was razed first and followed by the grand depot. The scrap metal was sent to Argentina for the best price; the bricks perhaps cleaned and used elsewhere.

The men assigned the task to demolish this beauty were said to be deeply saddened, for you see, they were destroying more than a building, they were destroying fond memories from the past.

This depot was a sacred place to many, that last embrace, the memory of the war, too many departures without return.

The demolition was not the result of the urban renewal program, simply the need to dispose of a building that was no longer used, falling into disrepair the railroad could no longer justify the expense. Valuable property, once home to train depots around our country, was being sold off by the railroad not so much for profit but to eliminate the need to maintain an industry that was quickly slowing as many purchased automobiles and used aircraft for transportation.

For many, it is a story that is difficult to tell, for others the years have erased the story of the grand train depot. Today you see a shopping center where once you saw many people boarding trains with destinations we can only dream.

As the Merrimack River and the stage coach went, so did the railroad. Yes, progress has been made, but the depot will always remain the favored memory in the community. The beauty of the grand structure as well as the fond memories will never be forgotten.

That last embrace, raw emotion, tears shared. A place to say goodbye one last time as family went off to war. That was our train depot and our memory, still owned by some.