Vintage Views: Railroad pieces lost to the years

  • The locomotive “General Peaslee” No. 26, was built right here in Concord, N.H., at the Concord Railroad Shops. This locomotive was once the largest in New England. Concord Public Library

For the Monitor
Published: 11/16/2021 6:03:25 PM

I walk in silence as the sun warms me this cool fall morning. This place that I visit is void of people while the past is not known by some. People pass along the road without a second look upon the forlorn landscape, this vacant piece of our past now so very void. It is the Concord Railroad Shops that I journey this day, alone with my thoughts of what once was.

There have been multiple railroads in Concord dating back to the arrival of the very first train. With Concord being a central location, the geography still holds pieces of these railroads, joining together this day, rusted, discarded and lost to the years. The Concord Railroad Shops are located about a mile south of our very beloved and somewhat sacred train depot that once graced the area along Storrs Street, between our Main Street and the Merrimack River. With a vibrant past and much railroad history dating back well over a century here in Concord there are memories that some of us still hold deep within our hearts. We call this nostalgia.

With our rich railroad history there were thousands of employees making their careers on the railroad with thousands of train departures and arrivals and so much more. This railroad epicenter needed to maintain the trains and build new ones too, requiring an area with a focus on the mechanical aspect of running a railroad. The Concord Railroad Shops served this purpose, away and slightly out of site of the people boarding and departing the trains at the depot. The maintenance was always a priority, the shops a mile south required to keep the trains running. Since the first railroads operated there have been various maintenance shops in the southern end of our town, growing with use, sometimes abandoned, but once again resurrected as railroad ownership and names changed.

It was the Boston and Main Railroad that survived and thrived here in our city. The Boston and Maine Railroad constructed a massive railroad shop here in 1897, supporting several Boston and Maine Railroads operating facilities such as the Southern Division, Nashua and Portland, Worcester, White Mountains and local activity. The Boston and Main Shops occupied a 26-acre parcel of land in Concord with the actual buildings at the site covering 4.6 acres. The 1897 construction allowed the railroad to provide the most extravagant service and manufacturing available during this period. The famed locomotive General Peaslee was actually built in Concord years prior to this 1897 expansion, known as the largest locomotive in New England for many years. The General Peaslee was utilized as a mail carrier traveling to points between Concord and Nashua.

The Concord Railroad Shops designed and constructed by the Boston and Main Railroad had a tendency to provide the ability to consolidate work while economizing the overall operations. It was known as a very practical operation and most efficient. All of the buildings were one story tall with the exception of the office and storage areas, planned and constructed with the everlasting thought of efficiently the buildings boasted high windows allowing for as much natural light as possible. The locations of the buildings were all strategic and allowed for easy loading and unloading while each building was distanced from the others to help with fire prevention. Bricks and mortar with flame retardant roofing material was key to further suppress the concerns with fire. Many of the buildings were also constructed with the ability to easily extend the building length for further development in the future with services installed very similar to a small city. The shops were connected to city water and sewage in 1897 with two massive lines of Concord water provided, one for combat fire if needed while the other line provided for common use. The shops also boasted their very own steam plant, distributed their own electricity, lumber shed, blacksmith shop, dry house, mill, cabinet, tin and pipe shops with heavy cranes. There was a boiler shop, erecting shop and a machine shop as well as additional specialty shops. There was a freight and passenger repair shop with a very nice wash room. The wash room was frequented by all employees at the end of their shifts to shower and wash up, for the shops tended to soil clothing and workers ongoing. The paint shop was quite extravagant and featured skilled painters that applied finish paint to the train exteriors, varnish to the train interiors and bold lettering to let the public know these were Boston and Maine Railroad cars and locomotives. The Concord shops manufactured many of their own tools and completed their own custom fabrications while providing storage for the entire northern New England operating divisions.

With the construction of the Concord Railroad Shops in 1897 there were six main buildings on site with multiple smaller buildings for storage and various facilities all linked by tracks for ease of movement. This large parcel of land also provided storage for railroad tracks and supplies to keep the Boston and Maine Railroad running in New England.

During the early 1920s the shops were once again updated with the addition of the roundhouse, turntable, coal shed, sand house, water tanks and pump house. As we welcomed the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s the railroad industry was met with declining traffic concentrating their repairs from outlying areas into the Billerica, Mass., shops. The northern New England landscape was changing. People were driving themselves in automobiles and airports were becoming popular. The railroad continued to decline. Wooden railroad cars were now being made of steel while detailed maintenance was needed less and less with each approaching season. As the 1950s progressed the railroad continued to decline. The Concord Railroad Shops were closed permanently in July 1958. The Concord Railroad Shops were sold to a real estate developer during the summer of 1959 with ownership changing hands several times over the decades. The Boston and Maine Railroad Shops eventually became known as the Concord Industrial Park, accessible from South Main Street. Fire consumed the Coach and Freight Shop building in 1988 with some remaining buildings now removed.

As I leave the old Boston and Maine Railroad Shops at Concord I glance back to the past, thinking about the thousands of men starting their railroad careers and eventually retiring as old men. It is now only the spirit of the past that remains, beckoning the curious while allowing others to pass unknowingly.

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