Historian tells about how railroads built Woodsville
By BOB HOOKWAY
Special to the Union Leader | October 15. 2013 7:03PM
It was one big rail yard, “spectacularly huge,” Jay Barrett called it, capable of accommodating 1,400 freight cars. At its height around 1925, trains were coming to Woodsville from all directions — Boston, Montreal, Montpelier, Vt. — and almost everyone living here derived at least some of their income from the Boston & Maine, which by 1900 had swallowed up all the smaller rail lines.
In fact, Haverhill’s precinct of Woodsville grew and expanded around the rail industry, according to Barrett, an architect and railroad historian who spent two hours Sunday presenting that history to a rapt audience of 50.
The two Upper Valley communities, perpetually linked, have shared in the celebration of their combined 250th anniversary this year. The Haverhill Historical Society brought Barrett from across the river in Fairlee, Vt., as part of that effort.
“There are days when things just don’t go right, and here’s one of ’em,” said Barrett, displaying a photograph of a rockslide around 1900 on Ingalls Hill that closed off a section of track south of Wells River.
And this month marks the 65th anniversary of the horrendous head-on collision in Newbury, Vt., between Boston & Maine and Canadian Pacific locomotives that claimed the engine crews of both trains. One train was supposed to have been on a siding at the time, but both were on the main line, coming at each other.
Barrett first touched on the history of transportation in New England, starting with the flat-bottom boats that hauled freight on its lakes and rivers.
It was a long, rich history over 100 years, but by the mid-1950s it was all but over in New Hampshire and America. Cars, trucks and highways steadily assumed prominence.